British Ecological Society – Emerging Plant Pests and Pathogens Symposium 2015

Last week I had the opportunity to present the preliminary results of my graduate research at the Emerging Plants and Pathogens Symposium supported by the British Ecological Society. It has held at the University of Exeter, Penryn campus in Cornwall, UK between 13 – 14 July 2015. Organised by Dan Bebber and Professor Sarah Gurr, the purpose of the event was to bring together experts from different fields to discuss the implications of emerging plant pests and pathogens in global food security and ecosystem resilience.

In this short post, I share a few pictures and my impressions of the symposium.


The first step to present a poster, is to make the poster. The final result was a shared effort, of course, with the indispensable contribution of my supervisors Dan Bebber and Sarah Gurr. I was able to share this preliminary research at #pestsym – thanks to my donors Gerry & Clemencia Posada-Brown who have funded my MSc Food Security and Sustainable Agriculture at the University of Exeter.

Day 1

Dan Bebber gave the symposium a very brief welcome quickly followed by a presentation by Professor Charles Godfray, from the University of Oxford, aimed at explaining the current challenges of global food security, the perspective through which we were to understand the research discussed over the next two days.


Charles Godfrey (University of Oxford) – Challenges for our Global Food Security

My favourite talk of the day was in the theme novel detection methods. Anne-Katrin Mahlein from the University of Bonn – spoke about the technologies being developed to detect plant diseases using mobile phones. Since I’m Colombian, I think about what are the implications for Colombian agriculture. Well, the possibilities are overwhelming, particularly for smallholders in remote areas that have very little except a mobile device. Personally, it was very exciting to see the application of research with the talk on detection of diseases through mobile image sensing. Business-led implementations perhaps are more quick and effective than government policy – that’s why this was my favourite presentation of the day.

I’d like to mention that we had ‘proper’ cream tea more than once during the event. ‘Proper’ cream tea entails clotted cream tea and strawberry jam with tea and milk. Since we were in Cornwall, we had local clotted cream which probably was the reason for serving it during our breaks – delicious!


‘Proper’ cream tea: generous amounts of strawberry jam are smeared atop local Cornish clotted cream over the transversal cut of a scone.

The lectures ended with a debate chaired by Melanie Tuffen from the Department for Environment, Food & Rural Affairs (DEFRA) who was also my neighbour during the poster presentations. The question discussed was: is plant biosecurity research addressing the needs of policy? The implications for global trade are significant since the stuff we buy and our travels are vectors for disease.

It was very cool to witness researchers and civil servants (Nicola Spence also from DEFRA), openly argue on the challenges of biosecurity and what needs to be done. There was certainly a tension between global trade and increasing biosecurity barriers and engaging more young people in public policy was mentioned.


Melanie Tuffen from DEFRA moderating the debate: Is plant biosecurity research addressing the needs of policy?

The day ended with the poster presentation session accompanied by Cornish cider. It was great fun to have a one-to-one talk with other researchers attending the event. I would like to thank the many people who gave their helpful feedback for our coffee leaf rust research including Michael Shaw from the University of Reading, Julie Flood from CABI and Jean Beagle Ristaino from North Carolina State University.


Poster presentation and Cornish cider. UK science events are fun!

Day 2

The Penryn campus was very green and uncrowded so I decided to go on an early morning 5k run before the start of the talks.


The Cornwall roads near the Penryn campus during summer.

My favourite talk of this day was by my supervisor Professor Sarah Gurr, Chair of Food Security at the University of Exeter. She shared the important work she has been involved with in recent years presented sort of like a timeline where findings were integrated into one narrative and implications presented as predictions for global food security.


Profesor Sarah Gurr – Chair of Food Security at the University of Exeter

Her talk was the last of the day but managed to be very clear and concise sustaining everyone’s attention. It was followed by the final remarks, a question and answer session with Dan Bebber.


Dan Bebber and Sarah Gurr during the closing remarks

After the day was formally over, some of us went out for dinner in Falmouth. Here are a few pictures of the evening. Overall, it was a very intense learning experience and it’s cool to meet and interact with other researchers in different countries working on similar things.


Group picture in Falmouth


The sweet view from our restaurant


Delicious dinner



IBM Best Student Recognition Event 2015 – Day 3

I am typing this from my train towards Exeter. The last day of the IBM Best Student Recognition Event 2015 was today and I feel glad I was part of it. Where should I start? Perhaps with the delicious stroopwafels next to the coffee.


What would have our Best Student Recognition Event be without the infinite supply of coffee? Thank you Clara and the other organisers!

Preparing the pitch

If you needed a reconfirmation of how time constraints, a clear goal and stress can either break or make teams – look no further. Today’s session was a massive departure from the evening prior when my team and I had left feeling a bit saturated and with work left undone.

But never mind the past. Today’s goal: design our pitch in a 16-slide narrative, for a four-minute presentation and 100 minutes to make it happen. We would then be selected at random to present and convince the jury (Toine, Alessandro and Robert-Jean – read more on them on day 1) to invest in our idea. Challenge accepted because we were in this together and were most certainly going to see it through!

We knew we could manage and with the available, we were able to automatically synchronise, figure out what was needed and self-delegate responsibilities without ever talking about roles! I was so impressed – I still am. Seeing Wiktor jump to the board and start sketching the slides and brainstorm with Benoit. Paul and Martin proofreading the narrative and finding exactly the images we needed to tell our story. For those last 40 minutes I recall us working like a well-oiled, decentralised, self-learning machine. We were brilliant: dear Benoit, Wiktor, Paul and Martin, we know where we started on the final day of the event and we should be proud of what we accomplished. It was a pleasure to have met and worked together 🙂

The winning idea to tackle food waste with millennials

I’m really excited about this part of the post. I managed to get an interview with Jérémy Dubrulle, one of the members of the winning team. He was kind enough to answer a few questions on the winning idea: FoodPrint.

Could you please describe your winning solution?

Jérémy: “Our solution is called FoodPrint and it uses tomorrow’s technologies to empower people and food waste. FoodPrint is a platform that gathers data from your smart household appliances and using big data it analyses your daily habits and recommends how to reduce your ‘food print’ through a wearable on your wrist or via smartphone. FoodPrint is not just an application – it’s an entire ecosystem that aims to become the standard by defining metrics and labels that truly empower the user. For example, FoodPrint could use the data from a compatible smart fridge to send you a notification at your wrist when you do the food shop and scan an item you already have in your fridge. It may recommend an alternative to this item with a lower footprint on the environment or just convince you that you don’t really it.”


What were the key concepts you had in mind when imagining FoodPrint?

Jérémy: Firstly, our premise was that telling people about an app to help reduce waste is not powerful enough to make their behaviour actually change. Unfortunately, food waste is not everyone’s first priority. Even if we are aware of the problem, we assumed people wouldn’t use our solution for the sake of it. We quickly understood that minimising food waste couldn’t be the aim so we had to imagine a system that would change people’s behaviour as a consequence of our solution, THAT was the real challenge. Secondly, in a few years, the Internet of Things will be a major part of our daily lives and every smart object in our homes will provide new types of data that can be harnessed by an intelligent solution. From those both concepts, we came up with FoodPrint.


Robert-Jan announcing the winner

How did you translate those concepts into the design process for the solution?

Jérémy: We had some difficulties with deciding on the right level of abstraction for the concept. Towards the end we thought focusing on smart fridges and collecting data would be too narrow. That’s why we came up with a level of abstraction that would allow manufacturers to implement our FoodPrint metrics, enabling them to streamline their product with our platform. Assuming that FoodPrint sustains the long-term interest of the press and public, it would be in the manufacturers’ best interest to implement our solution as it would show customers that they care about food waste and would allow them to differentiate from the competition.


Harry van Dorenmalen, Chairman – IBM Europe and General Manager – IBM Benelux

Could you also talk a bit about your team and the group dynamic?

Jérémy: Well, one of our strengths was the diversity of our team. We had brilliant people from diverse backgrounds specialised in the fields this project required.


What did you get to take back home? – beyond this amazing experience and friends that will last a lifetime, of course!

Jérémy: Every member of our team received an Arduino Starter Kit which is an introduction to the basics of electronics and also a great kit to test prototypes for new products. We also received an IBM certificate which is really rewarding. I don’t like to speak about ‘winning teams’ because it implies that there are ‘losing teams’ and, for me, there was no loser. I sincerely think that every student at the event gave their best and deserved to win the challenge. Every team came up with great solutions to this complex food waste issue. Beyond that, I think the most important lesson came from working together in a team made up by different nationalities trying to make the world a better place, is there something more gratifying than that?


Indeed Jérémy, true that. Multicultural teams working together to solve a global issue. The last selfie on the bus back to the airport.

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IBM Best Student Recognition Event 2015 – Day 2

So day 2 began at 8:00 when I ran into Suqi in the elevator as we left our rooms. We grabbed our breakfast and said good morning to everyone else who seemed well rested – at last! We walked to the bus as we were stepping on, we got a bracelet strapped on to our arms with, wait for it, a phone number written on it! Joked on the bus about feeling like little kids who would most likely get lost. Talk about generating expectation for the day ahead.


Suqi (not Suki) featured in the middle.

Anyway, we arrived at an unassuming building next to the IBM offices we had visited the day before and as we went it, the entire atmosphere signalled that today would be radically different to the previous one. The much anticipated moment: the entire group was divided into 10 teams (groups of 6) and immediately assigned tables and not allowed to change groups. Mantra for the next 24 hours: we are in this together and we will see this through. 


The space where I was about to spend the next day. Yes, please!

On the table there wasn’t much (post-its, markers, etc.) typical Startup Weekend kit. What wasn’t typical though, was the person who led us throughout the morning. Marcel Baron, what a cool dude. He’s the Senior Managing Consultant – IBM Interactive Experience and he’s all about human-centric everything: feelings, experiences, creativity and other elements not-so-top-of-mind for tech startup sessions. My favourite thing about the content of his segment was that it was ambitious and the concepts introduced were challenging, real and relevant, they didn’t feel easy nor dumbed down for purposes of the event. If I had to summarise the entire morning in a few words: a ton of right brain warm-up exercises followed by a crash course in consumer-centred solution design and marketing led by someone who knows about what he’s talking about. In retrospective, my favourite part of the day.


Marcel Baron and his crash course which I very much enjoyed.

On teamwork

The team. Let’s go there. What is it really like to be assigned to work together with 5 strangers whom you share little with except being on the same mission for the next 24 hours. When you’re aiming to come up with creative solutions through brainstorming, feeling comfortable enough to propose the absurd is important. Sharing ideas takes courage because you’re putting yourself out-there. Now add to that, sharing those ideas with strangers whom you’ve just met. Over lunch we discussed the morning session – lots of mixed opinions. For some, the instructions felt too vague and kinda random, for others it all made perfect sense.


This selfie includes not only my team but Demelza Farrer to the far right, Clara, Robert-Jan and Marcel in the back, respectively. The lady in the red blazer taking a picture (selfie/inception selfie of us?) was one of the IBMers who would drop by every so often to help each team when it go stuck.

The startup

The afternoon was probably the toughest bit of the day, at least for our team: putting our solution down on paper. Here’s where it got messy but I wouldn’t change anything because now as I type about today, the pace at which we developed those ideas was product of the stress. The session was led by Pierre de Wit, Lead for IBM Centre for Advanced Studies Benelux and IBM Extreme Blue Europe.

IMG_2995 We had an inconclusive afternoon and that is exactly why the next part of the day fell perfectly into place. Remember the bracelets?


Don’t-get-lost-please bracelets.

The treasure hunt

We were split into different teams and given another mission but in comparison to the entire day, this task was a pretty relaxed game around Amsterdam to sightsee. We weren’t left entirely to our devices though, these two are Wing and Martin and they are the coolest cats in town.


Thank you for saving us from the embarrassment of having to use the kiddie bracelets.

Here are a few pictures of our Amsterdam silliness including but no limited to: getting inside a very constricted space for a picture, singing the IBM song in Vondelpark and standing everywhere being clueless to look at our treasure hunt map – 🙂

IMG_2997 IMG_2998 IMG_2999

Romantic dinning

By 7 pm we were mentally and physically exhausted. When I was feeling like I would almost collapse, what a sweet surprise IBM! Thank you for taking me out on a date. We wined and dined and joked around for a few hours in a lovely restaurant with a view.


These are Martins. Martin from Czech Republic and Martin from Slovakia. Such good sense of humour, thank you for being great company.


Tomorrow is the most important day. I’m really excited about learning about everyone else’s cool ideas. I hope my team and I get some enough hours of sleep. We need to come together and deliver.

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IBM Best Student Recognition Event 2015 – Day 1

Today was day 1 of the IBM Best Student Recognition Event 2015. I’ve decided to document the entire event since I quite enjoy collecting visual data and reframing it with a narrative. IBM does too and that is our challenge for the next two days – in a nutshell!

My journey began early. I took the train from Exeter to London Gatwick where I connected to Amsterdam.


Thanks to Uzair for taking this picture despite the rain.

When we arrived at IBM, we were welcomed with a delicious lunch and got to greet and meet the other attendees. I had the opportunity to engage with students from Finland, Belgium, Czech Republic, Greece, Brazil, Ireland, Germany, France, Netherlands, Poland, Italy, Sweden, Pakistan and Kazakhstan. Everyone was extremely friendly, such good vibes.

Selfie desayuno

After lunch we got right to it. Saskia Bomas, Director of Finance of IBM Benelux, opened the day by stating the short and long-term expectations for us ‘best students’ attending the event and most importantly, she reminded us to “challenge, ask questions and think.”


Saskia Bomas

Then came a presentation on IBM’s history and strategy by Haydee Sheombar, Executive for Smarter Government and Business Development. My favourite part of her talk was on the potential of smart cities. I also very much agree with her remark on what a great opportunity it is to be in the same room with all these brilliant minds because of the potential to collectively generate ideas. Somewhat like cities where ideas multiply with each other.

The following session was by Gerard Smit, CTO – IBM Benelux on IBM innovation and research. Learned about IBM’s very cool project Watson and, of course, as a MSc Food Security student IBM Chef Watson caught my attention because of its potential to create recipes that add social value.


Betty Spiele on the far right 🙂

The last segment of this IBM session was by Betty Spiele, Lead HR Partner – IBM GBS Benelux. She gave a concise explanation of the IBM Consulting by Degrees program, complemented by a Q&A session with a person who has actually done it. We had some much needed coffee breaks in between since, as you can imagine, I wasn’t the only one who had had an early start.


After being introduced to IBM from different angles, we began to learn about the elements of the challenge we’re being called upon to solve. Robert-Jan Sips, Research lead at IBM Centre for Advanced Studies Benelux, who had also talked a bit earlier and listened to our dire need for COFFEE throughout the day, stated the prime restrictions: increasing population, dietary preferences, climate change and environmental pressures. I suggest you read this post where I talk about these points.

He presented the Poseidon or πoseidon project. In short, this initiative was built from realising that water reserves are being depleted by agriculture and how by understanding the causes: excessive or unnecessary irrigation, a minimum viable product can be designed and tested for adoption by its end-users. Learn more about this project here.

This was all framed with Robert-Jan’s travels towards the east of Netherlands where he visited countries like Mongolia, Kazakhstan and Russia, seeking for simple yet effective solutions to solve this water usage challenge. Later in the day, I discussed his talk with other attendees and what most struck us were the people and stories that Robert introduced as being affected to different degrees by this progressive water depletion.

Here came the presentation I was looking forward to the most: Food waste: context, sources and solutions by Toine Timmermans from Wageningen University & Research centre. The challenge is clear, 50% of food waste in the UK comes from households and the solution may lie in modifying behaviour, however, data are lacking. That! is our challenge for the next couple of days. Not necessarily for the UK only and with an element of visualisation that can engage millennials in cities, like, let’s say, Amsterdam.

The final talk of the day was given was Alessandro Bozon from TU Delft on Big and Social Data in Societal Problems and a City Context. This, hands down, was my favourite talk of the day! Such unique approaches to data collection like creating maps based on smell.

The day ended in this delicious barbecue. Special thanks to Clara, Eva, Demelza, Rozemarijn and the rest of the organising team for such a great day. Very much looking forward to day two. Off to bed!


I would really like to know what was your favourite talk of the day and what are your thoughts on the challenge – let me know in the comments below or through Twitter @farmingafuture

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The challenge is clear, 50% of food waste in the UK comes from households and the solution may lie in modifying behaviour, however, data are lacking. That! is our challenge for the next couple of days. Not necessarily for the UK only and with an element of visualisation that can engage millennials in cities, like, let’s say, Amsterdam.

IBM Best Student Recognition Event 2015 – Amsterdam



Woot woot!

Last week I received a very, very, exciting e-mail. I have been nominated to attend the IBM Best Student Recognition Event 2015:

“80 hand-picked business and technical students from all over Europe, the Middle East and Africa will come together in Amsterdam to get a deep understanding of IBM, network with peers and IBMers and build up ideas for a Smarter Planet.”

Host: IBM Netherlands

Place: Center for Advanced Studies (CAS) Benelux

Date: 8th-10th July, 2015

As a MSc Food Security and Sustainable Agriculture student at the University of Exeter, I’ve had several lectures on food waste. It’s definitely a priority for food security and solutions can come in all forms.

I’m looking forward to meeting all the other students and IBMers to engage in smart conversations on smart food. Finally, I want to thank the four University of Exeter professors who nominated me (Mark van Der Giezen, Sarah Gurr, Michael Winter and Tim Lenton), Jess Hurrell (Corporate Partnerships Manager at the University of Exeter), Demelza Farrer (UK University Programs Manager for IBM) and Clara Coepijn (IBM Netherlands).

I’ll be blogging here and tweeting during the event at @angeladelcast.

See you next week!

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