As mentioned in an earlier post, Agroknow participates in the Horizon 2020 EU-funded CAPS project, namely CAPSELLA. CAPSELLA project aims at developing novel ICT solutions tailored to the needs and requirements of farmers’ local communities and networks and other actors engaged in agrobiodiversity To do so, CAPSELLA use a strong bottom-up participatory approach, elicited through physical meetings with local communities and a dedicated online platform. In CAPSELLA, farmers’ local communities and networks interact with agroecology, agri-food and ICT experts to test, validate and select the innovative applications and tools best suited to their needs.
In this post, we are going to learn about Sarantoporo.gr, a very active and promising community in Northern Greece that promote sustainable development in the remote, isolated, mountainous region of Elassona municipality and it participates also at NetCommons, another CAPS EU funded project under Horizon 2020. For this purpose, we are going to interview with George Klissiaris, member and administrator of Sarantoporo.gr.
1. Can you tell us a few things about yourself?
I am a Dipl. Engineer in Production Engineering and Management from the Technical University of Crete, Greece and holder of Master’s Degree in Marketing and Communication from the Athens University of Economics and Business. For the last nine years, I work as a Digital Marketing Technologist in a large trust of Greek companies. Information technologies are my great passion and my field of volunteering work for common public benefit. I am the original initiator of Sarantaporo.gr Non-profit Organisation’s set-up and the establishment of the networks in the area. Currently, I am one of the three administrators of the legal entity, in charge of the organisation‘s communication, for the technical support of operation and maintenance of Sarantaporo.gr WiFi Networks and responsible for the general coordination of tasks within the non profit organization.
2. You are one of the driving forces behind Sarantaporo.gr; what was the need that led to this initiative and what exactly is Sarantaporo.gr?
Sarantaporo.gr is a Non Profit Organisation (NPO), founded in 2013, to promote sustainable development in the remote, isolated, mountainous region of Elassona municipality, northern Greece. The municipality has more than 50 villages, scattered around a mountainous relief, just opposite of the Olympus mountain. Being remote and sparsely populated, the villages, do not have access to modern communication opportunities available in urban centers as the Telecommunication Companies (TelCos) are not interested in infrastructure investment with no profit in the long run. As a result, many of these villages either completely lack Internet connectivity or the offered connectivity bandwidth is very low. To alleviate this shortcoming, the Sarantaporo.gr NPO designed and deployed wireless community networks in 14 villages in the area, starting from 2010 as a group of volunteers until present. These are currently interconnected under the same backbone network along with other community networks in Greece (AWMN) and Europe (Guifi.net, Ninux.org, Freifunk, etc.) . This infrastructure, offered as a ‘commons’, is openly accessible by all and is serving on a monthly basis approximately 5.000 people. It is supported by the Sarantaporo.gr NPO in collaboration with local support groups of 4-5 people in 12 villages, totaling almost 60 people who wish to be actively involved on a voluntary basis.
The main tasks of the Sarantaporo.gr NPO are:
- To create, maintain, operate and develop the Sarantaporo.gr Community Network (CN), safeguarding its “infrastructure as a commons” character.
- To connect and collaborate with other community networks (wired or wireless), aiming to promote the widespread use of this technology for the benefit of the local communities.
- To be involved in and facilitate scientific research on the technologies that enable the Information Society.
- To be involved in and facilitate research concerning scientific approaches relevant to society, ecology and sustainable development.
- To defend and build awareness about digital rights and digital freedoms.
- To promote citizen access to information, knowledge and culture on a basis of equal rights, using ICT.
- To contribute to the bridging of the digital divide between urban and rural areas.
- To promote and build awareness around common infrastructure and open source technologies.
The Sarantaporo.gr NPO has an organic relation with the local communities of the region, as well as with other open source and wireless communities around Greece (e.g. AWMN, P2P Foundation, Greek Free/Open Source Software Society (GFOSS), Athens Impact Hub, The Things Network, etc.) and with Academia (Technological Institute of Thessaly, University of Thessaly) and Local Administration. As such, it can contribute to the project’s goal by bringing together local end-users of the services (citizens, farmers and farmers’ associations, entrepreneurs), Academia, public administration and people from commons oriented communities to test and provide feedback for the deployed services and to give insight for possible new ways of interaction. Furthermore, we are trying to develop cooperation and collaboration with companies, with which we share common values (openness, equal opportunities, collaboration, resource sharing, social impact), such as Agroknow, Agrologies, Modulus, Weather Ex Machina, SciFy, etc.
3. Based on your experience and involvement with the local community of Sarantaporo.gr, which is (in your opinion) the most critical information that local farmers need for successfully complete their tasks and promote their products?
The farmers in the area have expressed their great need of access to specialized information in their domain, but the biggest problem is that most of them do not have the knowledge and expertise to use new technologies and all available tools. Statistically, the majority of farmers in the area do not have higher education and unfortunately, there are quite many who do not really have the desire and need to learn new stuff. Many of them can’t realize and imagine the importance and value of the present available knowledge and technological solutions.
In my opinion, the most critical need is the existence of a mediator among farmers and all available information and tools by academia and business in the agricultural field who will bridge the gap between them. This mediator, interested in changemaking, social impact and local socio-economic development, would need to collaboratively find and apply ICT solutions in the agricultural domain through building local communities that would share knowledge, expertise, solutions, resources and willingness to apply all these in the area.
4. Do farmers find the information that they need? Do you think that they currently face any information-related challenges e.g. accessing, managing or using such information?
Usually, those who are capable of using the internet can sparsely find some information needed, but the issue is they do not have access to integrated information and data to be utilized for precise decision making. They either do not have access to such data or do not have an idea how to make use out of it. The newest trend of Internet of Things (IoT) that could also be applied in the agricultural sector, is the use of sensors in the farm for gathering various real-time data directly from the field, which would be essential in the so-called smart farming, based on historical and statistical data and integrated decision making. Locals need to be guided in the opportunities, use and values of this new trend in order to comprehend them and become more effective and efficient.
5. What are the next steps? How do you see Sarantaporo.gr evolving in the next years?
We will continue maintaining and developing the commons infrastructure of the Sarantaporo.gr Wireless Community Network. We will try to expand it further in more villages and rural areas such as isolated farm fields, depending on local community’s support. We also hope that we could become the bridging point between local economy and the opportunities that ICT sector offers in the agricultural field.
6. Do you currently participate in a CAPS Horizon 2020 network? What would you expect from such a project? What would be the benefits for a rural community like the one of Sarantaporo.gr?
Yes, at the moment we are involved at NetCommons, CAPS project EU funded under Horizon 2020. Furthermore, another proposal, in which we are partnering, is still under evaluation. The proposed project will try to develop technological tools involved in the development of P2P communities that could share common infrastructure, hardware tools, information and knowledge in an efficient and sustainable way. Our involvement in the project is exactly in the field of agriculture, offering a use case of the proposed technologies in farming and agriculture. It is worth mentioning that we got involved in the CONFINE project funded under FP7. Within its framework a research test-bed was built. It might be very useful for other CAPS projects.
7. Anything else that you would like to share with us?
All those years, working for the ideas of Sarantaporo.gr, the most important thing I have learned is the power of collaboration. It is proven that the unification of powers is very effective. That is why, one of our main goals is to find valuable partners, sharing common values in order to make the difference and provide bigger social impact.
We would like to thank George Klissiaris for taking the time to reply to our questions and we hope that we will have the opportunity to feature him again on the Agroknow blog soon!