RADA gets help in praedial larceny fight

BY INGRID BROWN Associate editor— special assignment browni@jamaicaobserver.com

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

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THE Caribbean Open Institute (COI) is now working with the Rural Agricultural Development Authority (RADA) to utilise technology and open data to help combat Jamaica's $5-billion praedial larceny problem.


Dr Maurice McNaughton, director of the Centre of Excellence at Mona School of Business and Management (MSBM) and convener of the COI, said a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) has been signed for the institute to undertake a six-month project, slated for completion in January.


"There is not enough information about where praedial larceny is happening, how it is happening and who it is happening to, and so if we start with approaches that make it a much more visible problem then that can go a long way in understanding what it is and deciding how to tackle it," explained Dr McNaughton.


At the end of the six months, Dr McNaughton said the COI hopes to understand the problem and help in identifying potential areas where technology can begin to help to tackle praedial larceny in a meaningful way.


"We talk about it being a $5-billion-a-year problem. But, if you ask the police or the ministry to break it down as to where praedial larceny is taking place, it is difficult to do because a lot of the data around it is based on things written in books when people report to police stations," Dr McNaughton said.


As such, Dr McNaughton said one of the best things is to begin creating an incident data base about praedial larceny which gets visualised on a map.


This, he said, will help in understanding the nature of the problem; the pattern of occurrence; where it is taking place; and this kind of forensic is very important to tackling the problem.


"So even if we start there to create a data base of incidents so something as simple as a farmer having an incident can take his SMS phone and report it and it pops up on a map and the police can begin to use these types of resources in terms of how they investigate these issues so it is kind of chipping away at the problem using technology and data," he said.


He said the team has been very deliberate in understanding the problem through design research, which includes talking to farmers, community residents and RADA extension officers.


"What we have done is put together a team of three technologists that are working closely with RADA and we will be going in these communities talking with farmers, residents and the police, as they are the ones armed with the understanding of this beast to now go and build the kinds of applications that can help to tackle the problem," he said.


The findings and recommendations are expected to be released at a forum later this month.


Dr McNaughton noted that the COI will be utilising a lot of the data that RADA already has in its EBIS System which keeps track of all registered farmers and productivity across the island.


He further explained that developers from the university's technology community will use this information to build applications to show what is possible if this data is opened up.


"RADA has become convinced that this is something worth pursuing and so now we signed an MOU with them and are working to tackle some of the real challenging issues that they have that open data could potentially be a solution for," Dr McNaughton said.


But, according to Dr McNaughton, the COI does not have any illusions that all the praedial larceny issues will be solved by the time the project ends in January.


There is an urgent need to address praedial larceny, which, according to Dr McNaughton, saps the energy out of the industry.


"Praedial larceny," he further noted, "causes people who would otherwise invest in agriculture to avoid doing so because of the high risks involved.


"The worst thing for a farmer is to spend six months labouring over a crop then somebody comes and takes it, so I think the consensus is if technology can help in this space it would be a big boost," he said.



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