UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — Slicing-edge agricultural expertise has superior in recent times, introducing improvements from self-driving tractors and laser scarecrows to robotic bees that help in pollination.
However are these improvements helpful to and embraced by farmers world wide? And, maybe extra importantly, does their affect on the worldwide local weather make communities and the world a greater place? What might technologists study from various agricultural actions, reminiscent of permaculture and eco farming, which search to reimagine the relationships between people, non-humans and land?
Penn State College of Information Sciences and Technology researchers Shaowen Bardzell and Jeffrey Bardzell got down to reply these questions, doing ethnographic fieldwork in Shengou Village (深溝村), an experimental ecological farming village within the rural Yuanshan township of Taiwan’s breadbasket, Yilan County. There, they noticed the group’s counter response to industrial innovation and ensuing local weather disaster. What the researchers discovered was a complicated various strategy to farming the place exchanges of products, cash, and labor weren’t oriented towards wealth creation, however moderately at sustaining a fascinating lifestyle.
“There are a selection of practices, significantly because the Industrial Revolution, which have led to unsustainable methods of being that are actually creating environmental disaster and existential menace to humanity,” mentioned Jeffrey, professor and affiliate dean of undergraduate and graduate research on the Faculty of IST. “What our analysis is attempting to do is cross disciplines of computing and agriculture somewhere else the place individuals are surfacing methods to scale back a few of the unsustainable practices that we’ve come to rely on.”
Ethnographers and specialists in human-computer interplay (HCI) and design, Jeffrey and Shaowen aimed to find and determine concrete strategies employed by these farmers as options to industrial agriculture, in hopes of doubtless transferring these practices into their discipline.
“Sometimes in HCI, you’d determine a website and say, ‘How can we leverages expertise to assist individuals in that area?’” Shaowen, professor on the Faculty of IST, mentioned. “However on this mission, it’s the opposite means round. It’s discovering what technologists can study from eco farmers that may inform us in our mission of redesigning design.”
The idea of redesigning design is the researchers’ try to make design extra appropriate with people’ longest-term wants on the planet — particularly, survival.
“We [as humans] appear to be so endeavored about constructing methods with out actually fascinated by the implications,” mentioned Jeffrey. “And that raises a kind of dilemma, which is, we need to be designers to revamp design, however the factor that’s busted is design.”
Shaowen referenced a hypothetical scenario the place the world is populated by robotic bees, changing precise bees that had been killed off by pesticides, which, in flip, impacted flowers and different pollinators.
“It is such as you’re fixing one drawback with pesticides, however that creates one other drawback which you’ll clear up with one other synthetic resolution,” mentioned Shaowen. “So a part of what these Taiwanese eco farmers try to do is cease this kind of cascading challenge of getting an issue that creates a brand new resolution which creates a brand new drawback with a brand new resolution, and so forth.”
Of their discipline analysis on over a dozen farms in Shengou Village, they noticed the practices of a brand new era of farmers — a lot of whom left city-based skilled careers (in structure, engineering, chemical informatics, political science and cultural anthropology, amongst others) in a lot of industries to attempt their hand at smallholder farming to experiment with various strategies and rules to handle ever-increasing dangerous environmental impacts. Every with their very own distinctive strategy to their craft, the farmers contributed to a extra symbiotic group and a extra resilient agricultural ecosystem.
“Numerous occasions these questions, particularly involving environmental justice or environmental considerations, are literally depraved issues that technologists can’t work alone,” Shaowen mentioned. “And so we’re utilizing ethnography as materials to assume with. By way of the understanding of farmers’ concrete practices, we need to make seen the potentials for various resolution.”
One farmer experimented with the idea of an deserted farm, which was planted in a means so the farm would self-regulate and in the end produce crops with out additional human intervention. One other developed a system to draw and lure invasive snails to interchange the laborious, previously-used various of eradicating them by hand, in an effort to keep away from pesticides which might kill not solely the snails but additionally the shrimp, frogs, clams and different organisms that reside within the setting.
“The farmers appear to be prototyping an alternate means of doing meals manufacturing. They’ve created an alternate financial system and an alternate set of values, various group relations, and an alternate follow for precise meals progress and meals distribution,” Jeffrey mentioned.
Moreover, the researchers discovered that most of the farmers they noticed weren’t open to new expertise.
“There may be a lot innovation occurring within the ag tech area,” mentioned Shaowen. “And if people who find themselves on these farms choose out of participating in that innovation, in the long run you’re going to see a digital divide and people who find themselves structurally deprived.”
From their observations, the researchers make three notable contributions to future analysis. First, they counsel that technologists ought to extra deliberately design assets which might be sharable by all — together with people and non-humans — in a given area. Second, they suggest that HCI as a discipline ought to absolutely leverage its personal assets to assist flourishing biosystems, moderately than view data as disembodied and place-less. Lastly, the researchers observe that HCI researchers and designers ought to issue land utilization and interspecies relations into any consideration of IT growth and deployment.
“Our work is de facto attempting to leverage completely different disciplinary views to assist us deal with a few of the underlying causes of local weather disaster and alter them from inside with minimal disruption,” concluded Shaowen.
Jeffrey and Shaowen collaborated with Ann Gentle, professor on the College of Sussex and Malmö College. They introduced their work on the ACM Conference on Human Factors in Computing Systems, CHI2021, the worldwide flagship convention on human-computer interplay, held nearly in Could 8-13. The work is supported by the Nationwide Science Basis.