Monday, March 21, 2016

Modern rice information system helps DA prepare for and respond to disasters in the Philippines

MANILA, Philippines—Reliable information based on satellite data and ground observations can help the Philippines prepare for and mitigate the effect of recurring disasters, such as typhoons and El Niño.  

Since 2014, the Philippine Rice Information System (PRISM) has been providing the Department of Agriculture (DA) with timely seasonal data on rice area and yield and assessment of crop health and damage in the event of a typhoon, flood, or drought. In its first annual executive meeting on 31 March, PRISM will present its achievements and activities to a wider audience. High-level officials including Senator Cynthia Villar, Agriculture Secretary Proceso Alcala, DA undersecretaries, and other stakeholders will attend the event. 

“PRISM uses remote sensing, crop modeling, cloud computing, and smart phone-based surveys for rice mapping and monitoring,” said Alice Laborte, who leads the PRISM project at the International Rice Research Institute (IRRI). PRISM, one of seven projects under the Food Staples Sufficiency Program (FSSP), is a collaborative project among IRRI, Philippine Rice Research Institute (PhilRice), and the DA. The development and implementation of PRISM in the Philippines are funded under the DA's National Rice Program.

“Specifically, PRISM uses high-resolution Synthetic Aperture Radar (SAR) imagery acquired throughout the rice growing season,” Laborte said.  “SAR imagery can be acquired day or night and even on cloudy days. This makes the technology perfect for monitoring rice growth and assessing damage to rice crops resulting from floods and typhoons.”

“The rice maps derived from satellite images are being validated through field surveys where we enjoin and train local field technicians from the DA’s regional field offices, local government units, and, in some cases, farmers to gather the data,” explained Laborte. “This activity provides a way for us to assess the accuracy of PRISM products while helping to build the technical skills and capacity of our partners. Our rice maps for the 2015 wet season, for example, have an overall accuracy of 85%, based on 2,223 validation points throughout the country."

From the 2014 and 2015 cropping seasons, 443 satellite images across the country were acquired and used in rice area mapping and damage assessment. Some of these images were used to map flood-affected parts of Nueva Ecija where last year’s Typhoon Koppu hit and to assess drought-affected areas in Mindanao since last year due to the prolonged El Niño.

"These pieces of information are very useful in improving damage and loss assessments to assist in providing appropriate interventions for rehabilitation and recovery and to improve predisaster preparedness,” said Engr. Christopher V. Morales, DA field operations service OIC-director.

Pests and diseases can damage nearly 40% of the rice crop in Mindanao. Recent information on crop health, such as intensities of injuries caused by pests and diseases and cropping practices of farmers, will also be presented during the meeting. This information is based on data collected by project partners who use smartphone applications, which are useful tools for gathering and submitting the data to a server in real time.

“To help ensure the country’s rice sufficiency in the future, even as population continues to rise, rice production will require intensification, good varieties, better crop management, and improvement across the rest of the rice value chain,” said Samarendu Mohanty, IRRI senior economist. “Policies also play an important role.”

"Through PRISM, we can use the power of remote sensing. This is a breakthrough in rice history,” said Jimmy Quilang, deputy executive director for research and PRISM project leader at PhilRice. “Given various locations, planting dates, and effects of extreme weather events, we can now have a better, faster, and accurate assessment of rice areas, yield estimates, and forecast. These valuable information will help our decision makers to act immediately and implement adjustments and improvement on food security plans."

To be continued by the DA beyond 2017, the PRISM project is a pioneering achievement as the Philippines is the first country in Southeast Asia to have such an operational system.

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