Friday, December 18, 2015

DA, IRRI, and SMART to boost farmers’ incomes through text messaging

Tarlac, Philippines – For two years, the Department of Agriculture (DA) and the International Rice Research Institute (IRRI) have been collaborating on a decision tool that uses mobile devices and computers in providing recommendations to rice farmers to help them increase their yield.

Funded by the DA through the Food Staples Sufficiency Program (FSSP), this decision tool called Rice Crop Manager (RCM), has posted positive results of increasing the yield and net income of farmers. Initial research shows that rice farmers in Isabela, Nueva Ecija, Oriental Mindoro, and Agusan del Norte increased their average yield by 300 kilograms and average net income by about PHP 4,000 per crop per hectare.

Recently, DA and IRRI have added text messaging as a means to provide site-specific advice to farmers in addition to the web-based application. However, out of more than 150,000 farmers who registered in RCM nationwide from January to June 2015, only about 20% have listed mobile phone numbers, suggesting that many farmers do not have direct access to mobile phones. Hence, 80% of the RCM farmers are unable to receive text messages sent from RCM through the DA-Agricultural Training Institute (ATI).

To help bridge the gap, SMART Communications, through a memorandum of agreement signed with DA-ATI and IRRI, will offer a low-cost mobile package to farmers, with special call and SMS rates to the DA-ATI’s hotline center and Farmers’ Contact Center (FCC), among others, whom farmers can contact for their agri-related concerns.

To jumpstart its commitment to helping Filipino farmers, SMART donated mobile phones and preloaded SIM cards to DA-ATI for distribution to small-scale farmers in La Paz, Tarlac. Local government officials led by La Paz Mayor Michael Manuel received the handsets from SMART vice president for community partnerships Darwin Flores on 17 December 2015. The mobile phones will be used as test units for further research that will determine the capability of mobile technology to increase the reach of information from RCM to farmers via text messaging.

“This is a welcome opportunity for a public-private partnership to reach more farmers with science-based information and help them better manage their crop, increase their income, and improve their lives,” said Madonna Casimero, IRRI scientist and DA-IRRI coordinator for FSSP.

Asterio Saliot, DA-ATI director, said that the department recognizes the importance of information and communication technologies, such as the use of mobile phones, to increase access to knowledge, especially among farmers, so that they will be able to make sound crop management decisions. “DA is thankful to both IRRI and SMART for developing the RCM tool and providing mobile phones to our farmers,” Saliot said.

Flores, on the other hand, confirmed that SMART’s support for DA, IRRI, and Filipino farmers is in line with its thrust to help enable development through mobile technology. “The mobile phone is no longer just a tool for people to get in touch with their loved ones. It can also facilitate the transfer of critical information that can save lives during emergencies, or in this case, enhance the way things are done,” he said. “There is a wealth of knowledge out there that can help increase farmers’ yields and income and, ultimately, improve their lives. Now the information they need will literally be in the palm of their hand,” Flores concluded.


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