Wednesday, June 10, 2015

New app involves farmers in investment decisions in rice breeding

Investment Game Application (IGA), a new tablet app, helps farmers in South and Southeast Asia participate in an “investment market” for public rice breeding. By playing IGA, farmers reveal their preferences for the rice breeding products they most urgently need in order to improve their livelihoods. The app also helps them prioritize the traits they want in their rice varieties while being confronted with the same risk and cost trade-offs rice breeders face under resource constraints.

In IGA, farmers receive a small “investment fund” worth a few dollars with an opportunity to gain a 10-fold return by creating an optimal varietal product profile for their specific situation. While designing their ideal rice variety, the app allocates this fund among different rice breeding programs (grain quality, stress tolerance, and agronomic traits) until it is depleted. The backbone of the app consists in a cost function that simulates the cost trade-offs rice breeders face under resource constraints. The riskiness of each breeding program is also displayed, so risk-averse farmers can invest their funds in safer options or balance out their risks by investing in multiple traits.

This novel methodology has the potential to dramatically transform the way farmers’ preferences are elicited and prioritized as it enables farmers to actively participate in resource allocation decisions in rice breeding. On the research side, IGA helps rice breeders set their priorities at an early stage.

The tool can also be useful to donors in making rice breeding programs more cost-efficient, market-driven, client- and product-oriented, and forward looking. By conducting the tablet survey on a large scale, detailed quantitative information can be collected on the optimal product profiles that farmers need and how financial resources need to be allocated among rice breeding programs to satisfy those needs.

The Market Research Team (MRT) of the International Rice Research Institute (IRRI) developed the novel interactive app based on game theory. It is the result of a series of innovative and participatory expert elicitation experiments with senior rice breeders from IRRI, the MRT, and national agricultural research systems (NARS) conducted between November 2014 and March 2015. On 27 May, the team successfully tested the application with rice farmers in Victoria, Laguna. Farmers were highly enthusiastic about the IGA; they found it “intuitive and fun to use.”

“In contrast with classic tablet surveys, the IGA fully exploits the interactive possibilities of the tablet,” said Donald Villanueva, economist and animator of the experiment.

“From past experience with market experiments, we learnt that by making the experiment real, involving real money and real monetary consequences, participants tend to invest more cognitive effort in the quality of their responses, said Matty Demont, senior economist at IRRI. “We believe that this can generate high quality data on technology needs as prioritized by farmers.”

This information will further complete the extensive database of market information from consumers and value chain stakeholders previously collected by the MRT in seven countries in South and Southeast Asia.

“It will ultimately help in designing optimal strategies for transforming international and national rice breeding programs and developing efficient rice value chains in those countries,” Dr. Demont said.

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