Meet Ajinkya Datalkar: Fighting for farmers as climate changes the world

Learn about Ajinkya’s experience as a member of the 2020 Call for Code Global Challenge winner, Agrolly

Photo by erik_aquino on Unsplash

According to the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), a specialized agency of the United Nations, “Climate change threatens our ability to ensure global food security, eradicate poverty and achieve sustainable development.” While climate change makes its presence apparent globally, there are particular communities that are especially threatened by its overwhelming force; small-scale farmers.

Unlike commercial farms that are although impacted, can persevere through climate change elements, small-scale farmers can not — the crops they cultivate and food they harvest is their life blood. No longer can these farmers invest trust in the long-conventional approach of timing up weather events with their crops, because climate change has disrupted any seasonal patterns that once existed. There needs to be an accurate and accessible way for these farmers to sustain crop yields in the face of climate change, and this is where Agrolly comes in.

Ajinkya Datalkar

Agrolly is a mobile app that provides accurate weather forecasts, crop risk insights, and a worldwide knowledge sharing forum to equip farmers with the critical information they need to manage their crops. Leveraging IBM Watson Studio and The Weather Company APIs, Agrolly is revolutionizing the landscape for farmers around the world. The Agrolly team is made up of researchers, coders, and developers from Brazil, India, Mongolia, and Taiwan who met at Pace University in New York City. The Call for Code team caught up with one member of the team, Ajinkya Datalkar, to discuss his experience participating in the challenge.

1. What inspired you to get involved in Call for Code?

Solving real world problems by using programming skills is one thing that every software engineer wants. Since I was a kid I have seen the plight of farmers in India. They take huge loans from banks to buy seeds, fertilizers, insecticides, etc. and a lot of times, their yield ends up being destroyed because of various natural and climatic conditions. This is completely devastating for the farmers and their families. While I was in India, I tried developing solutions for this cause, but it never worked out. There were problems like either the solutions I thought of were expensive and the farmers couldn’t afford it or sometimes the solutions were not so great in the first place. After meeting Manoela and Chimka, I decided to give it another try through Call for Code, hoping that the platform that we are developing becomes one that actually solves these issues.

2. Why did you decide to gear your solution toward addressing challenges in the small-scale farming industry?

Generally household farmers do not have access to large amount of funds and there resources are very limited in times of distress. It is also very difficult for them to seek help from experts and other farmers. And after meeting Chimka and Manoela, I realized that this is not just the plight of farmers in India, but household farmers are facing same problems all around the world. By targeting small scale farming industry, Agrolly has the power to solve problems faced by one whole sector of the society — so we decided that we will gear our solution towards small scale farming industry.

3. How has Call for Code improved your developer skillset, how have you applied learning from the program to other components of your life?

Call for Code has been one competition that has pushed me beyond my limits. I remember we decided to prepare for the competition at the end of May and our plan was to have a minimum viable product by June 25th. The app was supposed to have a forum where farmers could interact with each other, login/registration/forgot password/profile/Reset password, show weather forecasts from The Weather Company and then finally the most challenging was the machine learning piece. Manoela wrote the machine learning program for predicting annual weather but later I had to find a way to run this program on IBM cloud and store the results in the Cloud Object Storage platform and also integrating it with the mobile app. I remember writing almost 800+ lines of code in the second week of June and more than 3000 lines by the end of June. At the same time when our MVP was released, Helen joined the team and we started working with more force fixing bugs, adding features, etc. Helen was in Taiwan at that time and all of us were working day and night in a kind of Agile environment. I learnt programming in R very well, but the most important fact was that each of us learned to work as a team and that is a big piece to the developer skillset.

4. Was there a specific hurdle that you had to overcome during the build of Agrolly? When did the team feel like they “cracked the code” on this hurdle?

The Crop Risk Management section of the app was the most difficult one. It almost seemed like an impossible task until it was done. The results had to be partially generated on IBM Watson and partially generated on the cell phone of the user. Once everything started working, we had to manually do all the calculations and test if the app is showing correct information. Once we verified that the calculations for predicting crop water requirements and temperature requirements were correct, it felt like yes we have cracked the code.

5. How did your team manage deadlines, production timelines, and organization? Did you adopt methodologies like design thinking?

One of the most important factor in such competitions is how well you manage the timelines, we had very strict deadlines for each task. We used to have a lot of midnight meetings. We began with what the MVP will be. The features it will have and the timeline for developing, testing and deploying the features. For the most part we adopted agile methodologies of working.

As Ajinkya mentioned, working as a team is critical to building a holistic developer skillset. Call for Code has a variety of open source projects, backed by the Linux Foundation that allow you to collaborate with tech for good rockstars from around the globe committed to make the world a better place. Feeling inspired? Check out the projects and get involved today.

If you liked the story, be sure to give it a clap and follow Call for Code Digest for more tech-for-good stories! Also, receive monthly updates on the Call for Code challenges, coding resources, meetups, and more, straight to your inbox!

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