To provide a platform for dialogue among the stakeholders on the challenges of reaching Vietnamese smallholder farmers with digital tools, the International Rice Research Institute (IRRI) organized a webinar titled ‘Improving Rice Sustainability through Digital Tools’. Part of the Inclusive Digital Tools to Enable Climate-informed Agroecological Transitions (also known as TRANSITIONS) project, funded by the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD). The webinar identified the opportunities for improving access and use of digital tools and tailoring the services to meet the needs of farmers through inclusive co-creation of digital tools in rice production.
In his opening remarks, Mr. Le Thanh Tung, Deputy Director General of Department of Crop Production-Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development, emphasized that with the emergence of digital technologies, e-extension and e-agriculture in the country should be given more attention. With emphasis on sustainable and low-emission rice production systems, Mr. Tung shared that “the envisioned digital transformation of Vietnam rice sector can be achieved through the widespread participation of farmers and support of international organizations.” He wished the webinar to be a very interactive event and to become a platform for finding more solutions to rice sector development that will eventually benefit more farmers.
To share information on how to make digital tools more successful, presentations were done by Ms. Anne Konertz of SeaSpray Labs and Ms. Sessie Burns of the Alliance of Bioversity International and CIAT. Ms. Konertz elaborated on the three basic steps in user-centric design — learn, prototype, and test. She stressed that these steps are quick processes that help developers to learn and fail early to avoid costly mistakes later. Ms. Burns added that user testing helps in determining the usability of the digital tool and in updating the design and processes.
Several speakers provided their experiences of digital tools in the Vietnamese rice sector to contextualize the use of digital tools in sustainable agriculture. Ms. Marta Bogdanic of the International Finance Corporation talked about their Ag Tech project in Vietnam. She shared several lessons from their project implementation, particularly on the importance of “engaging farmers via an interested buyer or supply chain integrator.” Mr. Le Nhut Tao of the Sub-department of Crop Production and Plant Protection of Can Tho City also added that digital tools should complement face-to-face interaction with extension workers because most farmers still prefer personal meetings, as they can observe the field situation and build a better relationship.
Ms. Tran Phuong Hi of Olam Global Agri shared in her presentation that in developing digital tools, it is necessary to pay attention to the education level and age of the farmers. Dr. Nguyen Ngoc Quang of WeatherPlus reported on their experience in developing MobiAgri app, which provide farmers with information on weather forecast and pest and diseases, among others. He echoed the importance of farmer inclusion in digital-tool development through intensive survey on the needs of farmers to make the app suitable to the users.
During the open forum, participants discussed on various issues related to digital tools development, such as the quality of data collected by farmers; data traceability, transparency and privacy; and social inclusivity, among others.
The TRANSITIONS project and this workshop are in line with MARD's digital transformation orientation of the agricultural sector, with particular focus on: building a pilot model of smart agricultural production and connection on a regional scale; strengthening research on digital technologies; developing digital platforms; promoting the connection between production and consumption of agricultural products on the online platform; and training in digital skills for agricultural enterprises, agricultural cooperatives, and farmers.
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