News ◦ 02—02—2022

NEUROPUBLIC’s Nikos Kalatzis talks about the Technology Innovation Pillar of Ploutos

News ◦ 02—02—2022

NEUROPUBLIC participates in the Ploutos Horizon 2020 project, which aims at re-balancing the agri-food value chain and making it more sustainable. Its gaiasense smart farming system plays a key role in the approach proposed by the project, helping farmers to produce more sustainably and improve their competitiveness.

Nikos Kalatzis, NEUROPUBLIC’s Technical Project Manager, recently had the opportunity to talk about the technological pillar of the Sustainable Innovation Framework of Ploutos, as one of the project’s active contributors.

Nikos Kalatzis has an extensive experience, participating in more than 15 (inter)national research development projects and publishing over 40 scientific articles. His research interests include sensing technologies, information systems interoperability and decision support algorithms, among others. In Ploutos, he is the Head of the technology innovation pillar and applies Smart Farming solutions, offering his valuable knowledge and experience, as he is also a part-time farmer.


How do you think technology can benefit a more sustainable agri-food sector?

N.K: We are currently facing a global multilevel crisis with significant societal implications. Climate change, environmental degradation, food production and distribution are highly interrelated forming a sensitive and currently unbalanced ecosystem. At the same time, ICT based solutions are getting more robust, easier to use and cheaper. It is now technical and financial feasible to deploy and utilise ICT solutions capable to address the emerging challenges for a more sustainable agri-food sector.

Technology can contribute in a more sustainable food production in various ways:

  • IoT based technologies (e.g. sensors) combined with data-driven decision making algorithms, demonstrate the potential to provide better insights to farmers, allowing the optimization of agricultural inputs (fertilizers, pesticides, irrigation and fuel). At the same time, the utilisation of these technologies, generate extensive data logs which may act as evidences of applied farming practices, supporting better monitoring of the farming process, both for the farmer but also for the rest of the agri-food value chain.
  • Data collections generated during the various stages of food production can now be shared in a controlled, meaningful and accountable manner, among the food-chain key stakeholders, including end-consumers. This allows for a more transparent food production and also incentivizes the implementation of more sustainable practices, that may escort the final food product as a competitive advantage.

Why is the reuse of existing ICT solutions more sustainable?

During the recent years, there are already significant efforts invested on developing Information Systems addressing the technical requirements imposed at the various stages of the agri-food chains. There are currently in use mature and efficient ICT solutions supporting cultivation practices, food processing factories, logistics services and retailers. However most of these solutions are isolated with limited capabilities for interaction with third party systems. On the other hand, and in order to support a more transparent agri-food system there are significant efforts invested on data sharing technologies (e.g. interoperability mechanisms) including the standardization of data models and ontologies for the agri-food sector.

It is not realistic to expect the total replacement or the implementation of drastic changes on currently operational Information Systems in order achieve openness and data sharing. We need to avoid developing new information systems, new protocols, and new data models without considering the existing ecosystem of agri-food information services.  It is a more realistic and sustainable approach that data sharing mechanisms and innovative data-driven solutions will reuse and adapt on existing operational systems selecting of course existing solutions with a proven track record of best practices.

How do you think the development of interoperability architectures can enhance the usage of ICT solutions form the farmers?

Agri-food ICT solutions are thriving. There is a continuous increase on the quality and the quantity of the offered services. On the other hand, these systems are mainly isolated, focus on a specific application domain and act as “vertical silos”. For example, an ICT solution that controls a spraying implement attached on a tractor may not be possible to interact and share data logs of executed tasks with the digital farm-book where all the performed cultivation practices are recorded. Here is where interoperability comes into play. Interoperability is defined as “the ability of two or more ICT systems to exchange information and to use the information that has been exchanged.” Interoperability allows the development of innovative cross-platform, cross-domain, and cross-organisational services unlocking the potential for generating additional value from existing deployments.

Could you elaborate on the Ploutos’ approach for enabling interoperability and how it is connected with the Innovation Academy and will contribute to the legacy of the project?

The Ploutos’ data sharing approach is based on a business, social and technical requirements analysis conducted on 11 pilots representing a variety of actors in the food system, including farmers, food industry companies, advisors, researchers and ICT providers. The pilots cover a range of agri-food ecosystems, covering arable, horticulture, perennials and dairy production among others.

The developed mechanisms where designed, considering behaviour change, collaborative business modelling and data-driven innovation in an integrated manner aiming to deliver the most environmentally, socially, and economically sustainable solutions. Three are the main design principles that drove the development of Ploutos data sharing mechanisms:

a) reuse of existing best practices on data modeling/management

b) integration with legacy/operational ICT food systems and

c) a distributed architecture allowing queries across a federated network of agri-food data repositories where stakeholders control access to their own data.

The developed solution is following open science principles hence it aims for increased rigor, accountability, and reproducibility of the results. The openness of the source code and the fact that the solutions are evaluated in commercial agri-food environments from an early stage ensures that are addressing real world needs that will be exploitable even beyond Ploutos project life time.

The text was originally published on the Ploutos project website.