Food and Fertilizer Technology Center - publications

May. 23, 2007

Promoting the Good Agricultural Practice Movement through Interactive and Seamless Communication Based on User-Friendly Mobile Information Technology

People Are Invigorated by Great Tastes

The picture on the right vividly captures the decisive moment when a happy smile, because of the pleasant taste from a mouthful bite of tomato, just breaks over a man's face (Fig. 1). Savory foods never fail to bring a happy smile.

On the other hand, incidents such as the O-157 epidemic food poisoning, a series of food poisoning problems by a leading dairy product company, as well as the bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE) and the labeling scandal in the meat industry, the use of unregistered agricultural chemical and zoonosis in Japan are too numerous to list. We find articles regarding food problems and the words "safety" or "relief" on newspapers almost everyday. In fact, food safety issues led a major restaurant chain to eliminate its popular "beef bowl" from the menu. Such problems must have triggered the surge of interest in "traceability," which means to trace back the history of food from production onward. I welcome the fact that people have become more interested in foods and farming, as I have devoted myself to field studies on farming that produces foods. But I feel slightly distressed that "anxiety" and "mistrust" are the factors that have caused their interest. It is lamentable that safety should be their utmost concern regarding Japanese foods, which are of the best quality and with the most variation in the world. With such a feeling in my mind, I want to write my study on "foods that animate people" that I have been pursuing since 2000 in Tokachi, Hokkaido, because this is an important step in realizing the GAP movement in the world.

On-Site Farming Information Is Exciting

"Farming data input through mobile phones before going to the field: one aspect of farming." "Mobile phones indispensable in the field, an easy way to communicate on-site information." These are headlines that appeared in newspapers in 2001, at the Hokkaido Shimbun Press and Nihon Keizai Shimbun, respectively. The articles mentioned "Cyfars' Diary," a software tool developed to record events as they unfold during the process of farming (Fig. 2). This tool systematizes and simplifies the recording of information related to farming, on site and in real time, with the help of mobile phones (Fig. 3). This is a database, shared on the Internet, accessible via mobile phones that can access the Internet. Such phones have become familiar tools to farmers.

We initially intended to record experienced farmers' farming to produce fertile soil, which was done by farmers almost unconsciously. This work brought us an unexpected side benefit. It was indeed exciting, not just for the farmers, but also for us developers who were looking in from the outside, as well as consumers who were accessing the Internet from remote cities. We can offer a testimony to it and that there was a flood of phone calls from people wanting to become "virtual owners," from the early morning of the day the Hokkaido Shimbun Press ran the article under the headline: "Experience farming work in Tokachi on the Net, Stakeholders wanted; 7 upland cropping farmers in Memuro create new system; Live coverage of harvest." The article came out just at the time when the farmers' group put out an Internet advertisement for "virtual owners" to be offered the crops whose growth could be observed daily through a series of farming work information available on the Website, operated by farmer group Mirai Nogyo Shudan (http://www.dgc.co.ip/ffg/). This response genuinely astonished the farmers themselves, as well as us, the system developers. "I never expected that our site would have drawn the attention of so many people," said Mr. Nohara, the group's representative. The system has gone through a number of upgrades, and at present, methods of putting in information are shifting to camera-equipped mobile phones. Static images, moving pictures and audio sent directly from the farming site have been very entertaining to outside observers watching and listening, while giving them such a profound sense of presence, making them feel as if they were really right there in the fields. The database currently contains over 10,000 records.

While people have been making the most of mobile phones and the Internet since last year, wherever or whoever they might be, the database has continued to undergo improvements, becoming the "Interactive Traceability System." (Fig. 4). In 2002, we applied for a business model patent as regards the comprehensive database of foods covering the entire process, including distribution, processing, sales and consumption. To be a part of this driving force is also certainly exciting.

&Quot;Four I'S&Quot; Concept for Consumers

The "Four I's" _ information, infrastructure, interactive communication and individual responsibility (Fig. 5). _ define the core concepts of the Conference of Food Relief and Security for Citizens (http://www.anshin-shoku.jp), an organization beginning full-scale operations in February 2005. This has been established as one of the many projects conducted by NPO corporation DGC's (Discussion Group on Complexity) fundamental research laboratories, which founded the Mirai Nogyo Shudan mentioned earlier. The Cyfars' Diary serves the first "I," information (Fig. 6). This is a suggestion for a new type of distribution network where consumers choose what they want with their own individual responsibility along with "excitement."

Let's get to the point. When information is free from the restrictions of time and space, it obtains an unexpected sense of "excitement." For farmers, potatoes are nothing new. For townspeople, however, freshly dug potatoes are something new. When it comes to the very moment of being dug up, it must seem like it is something impressive indeed. Such feelings are a once-in-a-lifetime experience. This experience can be transmitted from production areas to those of consumption as a positive value. The Cyfars' Diary can serve this purpose as well. The Diary is not designed to counter "negative images"__doubts and concerns mentioned earlier. Otherwise, it is not worth the not-so-cheap input cost that is borne by farmers. Quality foods, which consumers choose with their own individual responsibility based on the "Four I's" concept, embody this positive image. I believe that such quality foods are destined to become the future foods of Japan.

Conclusion: Information Evolves Future Farmers

Obihiro City, Memuro Town and Nakasatunai Village in Tokachi Subprefecture have launched a project that will surely revitalize farming communities with an energy based on such impressions as discussed above. They named it "A-Muse Tokachi Project." Three students of Tama Art University came up with A-Muse after "Agricultural Museum" during the Agricultural Museum Improvement Project, which is the backbone of the A-Muse Tokachi Project. This was the concept of their presentation on the occasion of the event held in Fukui, Cyfars' Fashion Show, organized by the Japanese Society of Agricultural Informatics. The theme of the show was to make cyber farmers more "stylish."

Needless to say, the A-Muse implies "to amuse." Prominent farmers, youth hostel managers, stock farm owners, restaurant owners and others living in Obihiro City, Memuro Town, and Nakasatunai Village convened to discuss and work toward creating an image of hot towns. Through these efforts, agricultural "on-site information" plays a central role in spreading information, and mobile phones and the Cyfars' Diary serve as the primary tools for that purpose.

In addition, Cyfars' activities related to information transmission methods and equipment are quite remarkable. Please visit the Website, http://150.26.98.99/pc/, and enter "guest" in the username field and "00" in the password field. One of the fresh features is immediately available, with pictures of various activities around Xi'an in China, undertaken by one cyber-farmer, Mr. Yoshi. You will get the chance to experience vicariously what Cyfars see, hear and feel each day as they travel throughout the world, crossing national boundaries with their courage and energy. You will be able to see on their faces that tasty foods make every society in the world happy.

Index of Images

  • Figure 1 Prof. S Joyful with a Mouthful of Tomato Picked from a Greenhouse.

    Figure 1 Prof. S Joyful with a Mouthful of Tomato Picked from a Greenhouse.

  • Figure 2 MR. F, an Employee of a Leading Electric Equipment Maker, Saying &Quot;It's Exciting!,&Quot; &Quot;It's Delicious!,&Quot; While Testing a System That Combines D Cyfars' Trace with Ic Tagging.

    Figure 2 MR. F, an Employee of a Leading Electric Equipment Maker, Saying &Quot;It's Exciting!,&Quot; &Quot;It's Delicious!,&Quot; While Testing a System That Combines D Cyfars' Trace with Ic Tagging.

  • Figure 3 Tool Development: Real-Time Input of the on-Site Information on the Spot

    Figure 3 Tool Development: Real-Time Input of the on-Site Information on the Spot

  • Figure 4 Interactive Traceability System Structure

    Figure 4 Interactive Traceability System Structure

  • Figure 5 &Quot;Four I'S&Quot; Concept for Safety Foods

    Figure 5 &Quot;Four I'S&Quot; Concept for Safety Foods

  • Figure 6 Notice on Cyfars' Fashion Show

    Figure 6 Notice on Cyfars' Fashion Show

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