How this UBC-led team developed a first-of-its-kind farming app

Nov 24 2022, 7:15 pm

In order for Canada to meet its climate commitments and support long-term food security, it’s important that farmers adopt more sustainable practices — it’s also essential that farmers have access to useful information and tools to help them do so.

That’s why a farmer-scientist partnership at UBC created LiteFarm, a free and open source management tool that enables farmers to manage their operations more sustainably. Since 2017, dozens of software and design professionals, students, and farmers from across the globe have collaborated to design a user-friendly app that is now being used in more than 120 countries.

We spoke to three members of the team behind the innovative platform — Hannah Wittman (professor in the Faculty of Land and Food Systems at UBC), Kevin Cussen (LiteFarm product manager and UBC staff member), and Dana James (postdoctoral fellow at UBC’s Centre for Sustainable Food Systems) — about how LiteFarm is supporting the transition to climate-resilient agriculture.

“Our goal is to make it easier to farm sustainably. We are in the midst of a global ecological and climate crisis, and agriculture is one of the major drivers of biodiversity loss, deforestation, soil erosion, water pollution, and greenhouse gas emissions,” Dr. Wittman says. “At the same time, food insecurity affects millions of farmers and farm workers. All of this points to the need for more ecological and empowered farming practices and food systems that ensure everyone has access to a healthy environment, nourishing and culturally-appropriate foods, and dignified work.”

LiteFarm allows farmers to digitally manage their farms, supporting the use of agroecological practices. Farmers also use the app to gain key insights into the sustainability and biodiversity of their operations, all while joining farmers and scientists together in a participatory assessment of the social, environmental, and economic outcomes of diverse farming systems.

Since its initial release in 2020, the team says the app has received an “incredible” response from the farming community. “We’ve grown from a handful of farms in BC to more than 2,300 farms in more than 120 countries. We’ve been inspired by the ingenuity with which our users employ LiteFarm to run their farms,” says product manager Kevin Cussen.

Through working with RBC’s Tech for Nature, a program that supports new ideas, technologies, and partnerships to solve pressing environmental challenges, the team will be able to improve the app’s existing features as well as dive into the creation of new features.

“RBC’s Tech for Nature funding has given us the flexibility to tackle features our users have been asking us to build for years,” says Cussen. “First up is support for integrated crop and livestock operations. For thousands of years, humans have known the regenerative ecological and nutrient management benefits of growing crops and raising livestock side-by-side. The LiteFarm team is looking forward to exploring these interactions with our users and other experts, and incorporating them into the app in a way that continues to flexibly support sustainable agriculture in its many permutations.”

UBC Farm (LiteFarm)

“Innovation has always been an important part of the farming industry,” said Mark Beckles, vice president of Social Impact and Innovation at RBC. “Connecting that entrepreneurial spirit with technology creates endless opportunities for the future of farmland and those who steward it. UBC is playing a critical role in this development which will benefit us all.”

How the students working on LiteFarm’s development manage their academics while continuously devoting time to the project is one of the most impressive elements. James,  who recently completed her Ph.D. at UBC, says she felt compelled to find a way to aid in the transition to more sustainable agriculture after working with farmers in Latin America.

“I heard first-hand about how farmers were looking for tools that could support them in documenting their farm management practices to help them receive organic or agroecological certification,” she says. “There was a need to collect on-farm data related to indicators of sustainable agriculture — so that we could share the valuable work that these farmers and farmworkers were doing to feed their communities, take care of the soil, and promote biodiversity. Since the topic aligns with my research interests in promoting biodiverse landscapes that nurture healthy and thriving communities, my involvement with this project synergized with my Ph.D. and I’ve been excited to continue working on it through my postdoctoral research.”

Looking to the future, LiteFarm will continue to help farmers to record their own management practices while communicating the benefits of their approaches and their specific needs related to improving agricultural sustainability and viability to both the policymakers and the general public.

“As policymakers and the public better understand the importance of sustainable and diversified farming, hopefully, we can create an enabling environment that encourages many more farmers to use agroecological management practices and supports eaters in accessing nutritious, affordable, and sustainably-grown foods,” Dr. Wittman says.

For more information about RBC’s strategy to support its clients in sectors across the economy in a socially inclusive transition to net-zero, and the risks and opportunities it faces, please visit

To learn more about LiteFarm, visit their website here. For more information on RBC’s Tech For Nature initiative, visit Daily Hive’s Tech for Nature content hub.

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