A Smart Solution for Protecting River Ecosystems from Urban Pollution

For the Yangtze River Economic Belt to sustain growth, the region needs to address environmental issues, such as pollution in Xin'an River and other tributaries.

Cities can turn to integrated ICT solutions to better manage the environment, health and safety of their industrial parks and enterprises.

Overview

Huangshan City plays a critical role in protecting Xin’an River and other water ecosystems within the Yangtze River Economic Belt in the People’s Republic of China (PRC) and in ensuring safe and clean water for 400 million residents. 

In 2019, the Cities Development Initiative for Asia (CDIA), a multi-donor trust fund managed by the Asian Development Bank (ADB), provided technical assistance to the city government to support the core aspects of a project that will upgrade sewerage and stormwater drainage facilities in Huangshan, a city in Anhui Province, to reduce pollution in the Xin’an River.

The CDIA technical team supplemented project preparation by introducing innovative and international best practices in water pollution management, including an environmental, health and safety (EHS) management system that also covers industrial parks and enterprises.

CDIA and the Huangshan government made their recommendations and technical roadmaps available online through a series of publications to guide project design and implementation.  

This is a summary of the publication Cost-effective Environmental Management: Networking ICT Solutions. It discusses the benefits of integrating information and communications technology (ICT)-networked systems with smart city data management platforms to improve environmental management and monitoring for industries and regulators alike.

Strategic Importance of Huangshan in Protecting Ecosystems

The Yangtze River Economic Belt is an environmentally focused economic development initiative covering nine provinces, including Anhui. The region is home to over 40% of the country’s population and contributes about 45% of the national economic output. Freshwater from the region provides drinking water for 400 million people. Qiandao Lake and the Xin’an River are the main sources of drinking water for 10 million residents in the Zhejiang Province.

Huangshan City lies some 100 kilometers south of the Yangtze River, in the southern part of Anhui. It is composed of three districts: Tunxi, Huangshan, and Huizhou; and four counties: She, Xiuning, Yi and Qimen. It has a population of 1.4 million. Its UNESCO World Heritage sites, which include Mount Huang or Yellow Mountain and the ancient villages of Xidi and Hongcun, draw more than 70 million tourists every year. However, the rapid growth of tourism, along with economic development, urbanization, and intensive agriculture have increased environmental pressures on the Xin’an River Basin and damaged water quality. The city urgently needs strong water management and sustainable green development to improve water quality and protect river ecosystems.

The city government pursued innovative approaches and integrated ICT in the design and implementation of the Xin’an River Project. CDIA provided technical assistance in the areas of first-flush stormwater pollution management; EHS management; climate change adaptation and mitigation; and ICT application. It enhanced the government’s understanding of the design, construction, operation, and maintenance requirements of suggested innovations. These joint efforts contributed to the approval of a $100 million loan for the project from ADB in December 2019. The project is also supported by a €50 million loan from German development bank KfW.

Integrating Data and Systems for Environmental Monitoring

CDIA helped rethink the project design for the ICT component and demonstrated the benefits of networked, real-time monitoring of industrial parks and manufacturing enterprises to reduce the risk of water and air pollution. It also highlighted the cost-effectiveness and the advantages of data sharing and integrating separate ICT systems into Huangshan’s Smart City platform. Doing so reduces the risk of information isolation in key environmental areas and helps improve monitoring and emergency response.

Under the original project design, four information systems will be developed: smart water conservancy system for Huangshan (as a whole), smart environmental monitoring system for Qimen County, and smart EHS systems for Huizhou District Industrial Park and She County Industrial Park.

The CDIA team reviewed the feasibility studies on the four systems, conducted its own technical analyses and site visits, and engaged with various stakeholders. Based on its findings, the team proposed that the four originally separate ICT programs should be linked, and Huangshan’s Data Resource Administration Bureau (DRAB) should lead the top-level design to establish a centralized, structured platform to assure policy compliance and resource sharing between the different systems. Specifically, any common functions shared by ICT systems at the implementation level should be integrated into one system, administered by the DRAB, and ultimately integrated into Huangshan’s Smart City platform.

The integration of the project’s ICT components in the Smart City platform will enable them to be linked with other data sources and for data analytics to be shared, thereby boosting environmental monitoring and risk prevention.

The Case for Developing One System

The CDIA technical team developed a web-based EHS management system (WeHS). It aims to provide real-time monitoring of water and air quality as well as alerts on potential risks or hazardous leaks in the Huizhou District and She County industrial parks. The team proposed a conceptual design of how the two industrial parks and their manufacturing enterprises can cooperate to jointly improve EHS compliance and emergency response through advanced ICT and data sharing. The team demonstrated that separate systems can be merged into one to optimize resources and prevent duplication. The system is replicable in other industrial parks that are facing similar hazards, and it is scalable in operations. The WeHS software may also be used by other enterprises and park locators as an internal auditing tool and training platform.

In contrast to the original concept of four individual systems, the proposed single WeHS system will help provide real-time linkages between government, industrial parks, and manufacturing enterprises and better manage environmental or safety risks in the two industrial parks.

Overall, the revised project design was a paradigm shift from a conventional, compartmentalized, compliance-driven problem-solving approach to shared, cooperation-oriented environmental management in Huangshan City.

Key findings at a glance

  • Data integration should be central to the overall project design. In Huangshan, DRAB will take the lead in developing the core functions for EHS management systems as demonstrated in the pilot for the two industrial parks which will create a smart EHS or WeHS. The industrial parks may still develop smaller-scale management systems to address their specific needs. 
  • Data transparency can reduce environmental risks. Through the Huangshan Smart City platform, the project’s ICT component will have access to real-time information in key environmental areas, which will help improve environmental monitoring and responses. 
  • Plan for economies of scale. The ICT systems to be developed for environmental management and monitoring have a number of common features. As the CDIA team has shown in its pilot study, these can be integrated into a single operating platform, enabling net savings of more than 60% on the project’s ICT component.

The approach recommended by CDIA for ICT systems in the Huangshan Xin’an River Project shows that a well-designed system can support effective sharing of data and information and significantly improve management efficiency and effectiveness. It is hoped that the WeHS system will benefit not only the city but also other small and medium-sized cities in the PRC and in other countries in Asia and the Pacific.

References

Asian Development Bank (ADB). 2019. ADB Approves Green Financing, River Restoration Demonstration Project in Anhui, PRC. News release. 12 December.

ADB. People’s Republic of China: Anhui Huangshan Xin’an River Ecological Protection and Green Development Project. Unpublished.

Cities Development Initiative for Asia (CDIA). 2020. Cost-Effective Environmental Management: Networking ICT Solutions.

CDIA. 2020. Environmental, Health and Safety Management for Industrial Parks: Web-based Solutions

Author
Chee Anne Roño

Chee Anne Roño

Urban Development Specialist, Cities Development Initiative for Asia (CDIA)

This blog is reproduced from Development Asia.

How Smart Lockers Work

Smart lockers are a common sight near residential apartments in Chinese cities. With them, consumers can pick up packages at their convenience without the need to wait at home.

Reaching for the Stars in the Fight Against COVID-19

Researchers are looking to space for innovative solutions to the pandemic. Photo: Greg Rakozy

The pandemic has highlighted the importance of technology in managing the crisis. Public-private partnerships, coupled with global cooperation, could help us explore technological solutions beyond the earth.

The world has been upended by the COVID-19 pandemic. To combat the spread of the virus, global cooperation and partnerships are of paramount importance. But we should be looking further afield for solutions, to a place beyond our planet but increasingly within reach of human collaboration.

Space technology is one area where governments and the private sector can join forces to defeat this infectious disease. In fact, public-private partnerships (PPPs) in space technology is nothing new. As early as 1962, the United States encouraged private sector participation in the space sector and its technology and it continues to have the most seasoned and active space program, contributing 58% of the $70.9 billion global government spending on space in 2018. 

Most space-related PPPs are focused on sharing risk and innovation with the private sector. The current emphasis is to leverage commercial sector innovation and agility.

For example, under NASA’s Commercial Crew Program, SpaceX launched the Crew Dragon, the first private sector owned, built, tested, and operated American manned spacecraft on its way to the International Space Station. The historic event demonstrates NASA’s continued commitment to invest and engage with private companies through PPPs.

The benefits are obvious. Space sector partnerships provide efficiency gains by tapping into private sector expertise, reduce lifecycle costs by attaining value for money, and allocate risks to the sector best suited to manage it.

For the private sector, it means opportunities for return on investments, potential competitive and market advantage, and additional revenue streams from unique government assets. 

Beyond these, partnerships in the space industry deliver two additional advantages. Transfer of technology—both from the government space agency to the private sector (“Spin-Offs”) and vice versa (“Spin-Ins”)—and policy alignments, whether to stimulate a country’s commercial space sector or to reach development goals, such as eliminating the digital divide or furthering global health objectives. 

recent study, covering 437 articles from 1981 to 2017, identified four key space technologies that have applications to global health: remote sensing; Global Navigation Satellite Systems; satellite communications; and human spaceflight.

In practice, PPPs that utilized space technologies have proven effective in responding to the COVID-19 pandemic.

The Republic of Korea has collaborated with the private sector in increasing production and creating applications that optimize and coordinate the distribution of personal protective equipment (PPE) using satellite navigation and communication technologies. Through PPE tracker apps, citizens are provided with accurate information on the availability and location of such equipment, empowering them to make informed decisions, avoid crowds, and prevent panic buying.

In the People’s Republic of China, satellite technologies, such as the local BeiDou Navigation Satellite System, have been crucial assets in tracking patients’ positions (e.g., Wuhan Mini Neighborhood App), monitoring cargo transport (e.g., White Rhino Auto’s self-driving delivery vehicle), and guiding drones for large-scale disinfection missions (Qianxun Spatial Intelligence).

While these innovative space applications are exciting, especially the creative PPPs in response to the COVID-19 outbreak, they are not without challenges.

Developing countries without a workforce with solid numeracy and digital literacy, proper infrastructure, and an enabling regulatory environment, face limited prospects in adopting the opportunities that space technologies present.  The pandemic has reinforced the importance of digital readiness for countries to respond effectively and inclusively, as well as maintain societal resilience and business continuity amidst the crisis.

Public-private partnerships, coupled with global cooperation, have the capacity to bring countries one step closer to exploring the final frontie

The nature of space development—high cost, high risk, and long lead-times—also intensify the difficulty of establishing national space programs. PPPs do not eliminate these challenges, rather, they provide an avenue for better risk management by making use of the best qualities offered by each participant.

PPPs and space technology development should always be tailored to the local context. In India, for example, private participation in the space sector remains limited to supplying parts and components for satellites and launch vehicles manufactured by the Indian Space Research Organization. Enabling the private sector to independently innovate and grow remains a challenging prerequisite to fully capitalize on the benefits of PPPs.

Recognizing these limitations, two international organizations exist to support and enhance spacefaring initiatives and cooperation in the region: the Asia-Pacific Regional Space Agency Forum established in 1993 and the Asia-Pacific Space Cooperation Organization founded in 2008.

Both organizations promote cross-sectoral and inter-governmental cooperation and resource sharing in space science, space technology, and space application, as drivers of socio-economic development in Asia and the Pacific.

ADB has also been supportive in implementing effective space technology applications in many projects since the 1990s. Recent space technology ventures include the $50 million financing of the Kacific1 satellite, which will deliver internet connectivity to remote and rural communities in the Asia and Pacific region.  Another initiative is the Spatial Data Analysis Explorer (SPADE), an interactive web-based cloud platform that contains various geospatial data which can be used for project preparation, design and monitoring.

Now, more than ever, the space-Earth frontier should no longer be exclusive to a narrow niche of institutions and space-faring countries. Even in normal times, space technologies have offered innovative solutions to connectivity, inclusivity, and resilience challenges, and have supported healthcare delivery in the most extreme situations.

The pandemic has highlighted the importance of these technologies in managing the crisis and putting countries back on track to sustainable development. Public-private partnerships, coupled with global cooperation, have the capacity to accelerate this initiative and bring countries one step closer to exploring the final frontier.

Author
Regina Coeli Tan

Regina Coeli Tan

Associate Information and Research Coordinator (PPP), OAS

This blog is reproduced from Asian Development Blog.

Conceptual Design of the Intelligent Transport Systems Project: Case in Gui’an New District

Improving Farmers’ Income in the People’s Republic of China through E-Commerce

The People’s Republic of China has adopted policies to encourage farmers to start selling their products online. Photo credit: Ian Gil/ADB.

E-commerce can enhance rural livelihoods with public investments in facilities and training, access to funding, and favorable market conditions.

Overview

There has been rapid adoption of information and communication technology (ICT) in the People’s Republic of China (PRC) in the past decade. It is a world leader in e-commerce. However, access to ICT is concentrated in coastal and urban areas. The government has taken steps to strengthen infrastructure and capacity as well as provide funding to support e-commerce development in rural areas.

study by the Asian Development Bank (ADB) and the International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI) looks at the impact of policies and investments in e-commerce on farmers. It shows that online selling is still new to farmers, but they are receptive to it because of the potential for higher income and self-employment.

However, a successful e-commerce venture is dependent on infrastructure and location, as well as the farmers’ relevant knowledge and skills. Government initiatives in these areas are needed for e-commerce to impact positively across the agriculture sector in the PRC.

Survey Results

The development and adoption of ICT have seen a significant increase in the PRC, with the number of internet users and mobile phone subscriptions reaching 772 million and 753 million in 2017, respectively. E-commerce has experienced even more rapid growth, as PRC has become the largest e-commerce market in the world since 2013. In 2017, it posted online sales valued at RMB 5,328.8 billion (more than $700 billion).

The study examined the ICT uses and development of e-commerce in rural PRC. It used data based on the two rounds of surveys done by the CCAP in 2017 and 2018, which covered 1,128 households that represent seven provinces in the PRC.

Survey results showed significant improvement in rural ICT infrastructure, logistic services, and the use of mobile phones by farmers. In 2017, all villages in rural PRC had access to mobile phone services, with about 70% having access to the internet. Nearly 90% of adults had a mobile phone, and 71% of them used a smartphone for social networking, news monitoring, watching videos, shopping, and online payment.

Many farmers are willing to venture into e-commerce, the survey reported. The number of villages doing e-commerce increased to 63% in 2017 from 41% in 2016. That year, only 3% of farmers sold their products online, but 25% of farmers surveyed were open to doing e-commerce. Those hesitant to go into the online business cited as reasons the lack of relevant knowledge and skills, lack of storage and preservation facilities, high logistical costs, and inadequate marketing skills.

The survey showed that purchasing agricultural products online was not popular, but almost 20% of farmers are willing to transact through e-commerce for convenience and lower prices. Reluctance to buy online was attributed to a lack of relevant knowledge and skills, poor trust in online transactions, and high uncertainty on the quality of products.

An intensive e-commerce survey was also conducted in 250 households from 20 villages in Shandong and Zhejiang provinces. Results indicated that e-commerce raised farmer’s income and self-employment as online transactions resulted in higher net profits and are more labor-intensive than offline sales.

While the overall use of ICTs is impressive and rapidly growing in PRC, E-commerce is yet to get a good start. Several challenges stand in its way. A primary concern cited by farmers is the lack of facilities that can store and guarantee the freshness of products for long-distance deliveries. This limits products for online sales and the range of potential buyers.

Another challenge is in marketing, with low trust in online transactions, especially involving agricultural products. The initial investment to set up an online store is high and usually prohibitive for small farms without external support. Even after a successful startup, the retention of customers may require additional costs.

Recommendations

The study recommends six measures to facilitate the development and adoption of ICT and e-commerce in rural areas.

  1. Invest in the storage and transportation of agriculture products.
  2. Invest in capacity building by training farmers on how to operate an e-commerce business.
  3. Provide financial and credit support to farmers who are in e-commerce.
  4. Facilitate cooperation among farmers.
  5. Improve regulations and provide a favorable market for the development of agricultural e-commerce.
  6. Promote more inclusive e-commerce development in rural areas.

E-commerce is more likely to benefit the regions with better infrastructure and location and farmers who have relevant knowledge, skills, and resources. The role of government is to close the gap between the haves and have-nots to broaden and deepen the impact of agricultural e-commerce.

References

ADB, CCAP, and International Food Policy Research Institute. 2019. Information and Communication Technology for Agriculture in the People’s Republic of China. Manila.

J. Hinrichs. 2018. How Technology Plus Agriculture is Triggering Growth in the People’s Republic of China. Development Asia

X. Li, H.C. Tang, and J. Xu. 2019. Development Asia. What Can ASEAN Learn from the People’s Republic of China’s Poverty Reduction Strategy?, Development Asia. 

Author
Akmal Siddiq

Akmal Siddiq

Chief of Rural Development and Food Security (Agriculture) Thematic Group, Sustainable Development and Climate Change Department, ADB

Md. Abul Basher

Md. Abul Basher

Natural Resources and Agriculture Specialist, Sustainable Development and Climate Change Department, ADB

Jikun Huang

Jikun Huang

Professor, School of Advanced Agricultural Sciences and Director, CCAP, Peking University

Min Liu

Min Liu

Professor, Lanzhou University

 Huimin Wang

Huimin Wang

Ph.D. student, School of Advanced Agricultural Sciences, Peking University

This blog is reproduced from Development Asia.

Information and Communication Technology for Agriculture in the People’s Republic of China

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Rural Vitalization Through Internet Plus Agriculture

Combining value-chain investment projects with access to e-commerce will accelerate rural transformation and integrate the agriculture sector into the wider economy

The People’s Republic of China (PRC) government recently released a rural vitalization strategy for the 2018-2022 period to promote poverty reduction, rural development, and green and inclusive growth. Despite a spectacular economic growth over the past 3 decades, economic, social, environmental, and institutional challenges remain. 

These challenges are more profound in rural areas, home to more than 570 million people. In 2017, about 30 million rural people lived below the rural poverty line. Only 60% of the 600,000 villages have solid waste collection facilities, and 20% of villages had sewage treatment facilities. Chemical fertilizer application reaches 61 million tons per year, of which two-thirds has no impact on crops   resulting in water and air pollution. 

To tackle these remaining issues the rural vitalization strategy makes the management of solid waste and wastewater a priority and enhances rural development by modernizing agriculture. The application of information and communication technology (ICT), widely known as ‘agriculture Internet Plus’, is intended to increase agriculture productivity, reduce food safety risks and cut pollution from fertilizers and pesticides. Internet Plus agriculture encompasses the use of mobile internet, the application of network connected sensors, cloud computing, and big data along the food and agriculture value chain.

The internet is exerting a profound influence on the global economy and plays an important role in economic restructuring and urban-rural integration. Internet-based technologies, notably e-commerce, have vitalized rural markets in the PRC by improving the quality of agricultural produce and connecting small farmers with big markets. 

With the rapid development of internet technology in the PRC over the last two decades, a set of Internet Plus technologies has had influential impacts on the national economy. A publication by the National Development and Reform Commission (NDRC) and the Asian Development Bank (ADB) shows that intelligent agriculture practices such as precision agriculture provide substantial benefits in pollution control which also help mitigate the contribution of agriculture to global climatic changes. 

Satellite-based high-precision positioning technology combined with network-connected sensor technology can accurately monitor soil moisture, fertilizer content, weeds and pest locations to enable auto-piloted farm machinery to precisely apply fertilizer and pesticides. Efficient use of fertilizer and pesticide reduces soil, water and air pollution, as well as curbing greenhouse gas emissions. 

The NDRC-ADB publication illustrates how data tracking systems can improve the quality and safety of agriculture products. Using a mobile app to scan the quick response or QR code, customers can access information such as cultivation base, sampling time, results of pesticide concentration tests, planting, harvest and sales transaction data. 

Access to such information helps boost customer confidence in the product’s quality and safety. However, there isn’t enough incentive to apply these systems commercially, partly because national laws and regulations do not require traceability labels.

E-commerce has provided ways to sell agriculture products while reducing transaction costs and simplifying trading procedures. It has also built a two-way platform for the flow of consumer goods to villages and farm produce to cities. 

The number of rural internet users in the PRC reached 209 million in 2017, of which 47% make online payments via mobile phones. E-commerce platforms in rural areas have given farmers with an average farm size of less than 1 hectare an affordable way of obtaining high quality inputs and new opportunities to market and sell their produce. 

Giving farmers access to e-commerce requires support for agriculture extension services to standardize production, organize the farmers, and build logistics capacity in remote and poverty-stricken areas. The private sector, mainly Alibaba and Jingdong, have pioneered e-commerce platforms for agriculture and foodstuff trade. 

But there is rising demand in less developed western regions of the PRC for public-private partnerships to develop platform-based traceability systems and rural logistics infrastructure for public goods. Connecting rural areas with e-commerce demands the adoption of a farm-to-market value-chain approach to create value for poor farmers, local agro-enterprises, and consumers. ADB has already gained considerable experience working with leading agro-enterprises in the PRC to design and implement public sector-financed value-chain investments. 

The Supply and Marketing Cooperative of Gansu Province is working with ADB to develop an Internet Plus agriculture project to build the processing, cold-chain and logistics capacity of leading enterprises linked to provincial and county internet-based knowledge exchange and data analysis platforms. 

These platforms will provide production and management advice through farmers’ mobile phones and can be directly linked through network-connected sensors to farm machinery, warehouses and delivery vehicles. Traceability systems for produced food products will be integrated into the platforms. 

Such initiatives are crucial to the future prosperity of farmers in the PRC. Combining value-chain investment projects with access to e-commerce will accelerate rural transformation and integrate the agriculture sector into the wider economy.

Author
Jan Hinrichs

Jan Hinrichs

Natural Resources Economist

This Op-Ed is reproduced from Asian Development Bank.

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