We are looking for knowledgeable players to venture into Nepal: Microsoft director for agriculture

Photo: Derrick Louie

Claudia Roessler is Director Industry Solutions, Strategic Business Development, Chemical & Agriculture at Microsoft. She is an expert on how information technology can be used in agriculture. Onlinekhabar’s Abhaya Raj Joshi caught up with Roessler on the sidelines of the Global Climate Action Summit in San Francisco. Excerpts from an interview.

Could you tell us what Microsoft AI for Earth programme is all about?

The idea for AI for Earth is to help with the initiatives, either around agriculture, sustainability, biodiversity or climate. We truly think that artificial intelligence plays an important role in helping with these issues.

One of the programmes that have come out of AI for Earth is ‘Farm Beats’. It uses image data from drones and satellites and compares it with sensor data from the farm. This helps us predict farm conditions and significantly reduce the cost that is needed to get this data from the farm.

There are around 100 projects going around across the world where many universities and research organisations are taking part. We want to involve more countries.

Could you tell us about some application that you have recently launched in India? How do you plan to build in South Asia?

We have a team in India that is focused on agriculture. It looks into different kind of ways to look into precision farming. The sowing app will be started as a pilot together with a research organisation which is looking at different ways to improve it.

The Farmbox app will also help farmers to exchange information. It will give information about the farmers’ location, and also know what they grow. It will give people an idea about the local weather and risks about diseases based on their location. It also gives pro-active recommendations about how to treat the farm.

We at Microsoft look for companies that have expertise in the space and work as a medium for an interface between farmers and technology. We don’t want to limit ourselves on being an advisor to farmers. This is a reason why we partner with companies which are experts at what they do. We look at commercial players that have the capacity to help farmers scale up.

We hope we can help with better data collection with the help of sensors and images and help make it more accessible. We can also help with data pairing because a lot of data companies are worried to share data with another company that might be their competition in the future. But we want create a neutral ground where companies can come together and run analytics on our aggregated data which would benefit both the companies.

Any plans to start this in Nepal?

I think we do. We are just starting and are open to going to different countries provided we find local players willing to work with us. We need someone who understands the local market and someone who has an interest in the local market only after that can we come up with initiatives to venture into countries like Nepal.

If we have the world business council on board it would help us run a lot of local projects because they have many firms across which could be interested in what we do.

What are the challenges to implementing your program in South Asia?

The first and the most important challenge is to find the right partner to work with. We started our work in America itself because we knew the market very well and the same is the case with India where we found a partner who knew the market there as well. It’s a matter of consolidating learning from those countries that can build local expertise and that means working with our local teams in those countries that can participate in our program. Unless you visit the countries it’s really hard to understand specific challenges.

Will this development help community in the mountains be resilient to climate change?

We first need to understand the challenges we need to overcome in the mountains because moving around there is quite hard. We are working on how to get our product there. It’s quite fascinating that we are using modern drones to help farmers. We are looking at different measures to solve these problems in different ways.

How does your programme fit in with the bigger picture of climate change? 

It (climate change) is at the heart and maybe one thing I can mention is whatever we develop in the AI for Earth, the idea is to not just isolate this to universities but we want to share this intelligence with the rest of the community. So technically, if there is no project or initiative running in one country, you can go to the ones that are already out there and there might be something that is relevant for your country. It is almost like a cloud source research and intelligence connection.

Microsoft is a commercial entity and has shareholders to answer to, so are you looking at revenue stream that you can get from these kinds of projects that aren’t going to be very attractive?

Part of the company is working to empower various organisations around the world. We do a lot of things that do not necessarily lead to revenue in the first place. We do have an agenda which says that a commercial business needs to be healthy and the agenda also helps companies to be commercially successful.

But there is a sustainability issue. We have one team which is totally focused on sustainability. We are carbon neutral and share this to other companies which inform them about the importance of reducing carbon. We were able to reduce the energy cost of our data centre by 50 per cent. We share how to do this and share it with companies because we don’t want to keep with to ourselves as we want to give it back to the community.

And then there is that accessibility issue. We have a whole team that’s only looking into how can we make technology assessable in areas where it’s not there.

This story was supported by the 2018 Climate Change Media Partnership, a collaboration between Internews’ Earth Journalism Network and the Stanley Foundation.

Published on October 11th, Thursday, 2018 2:53 PM

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