Increasing Farmers’ Access to Rice Crop Manager: A Public-Private Project Initiated

Officials from the DA, SMART, IRRI, ATI and local government of La Paz lead the distribution of mobile phones to farmers.

LA PAZ, Tarlac — Farmers are the country’s hope in securing sufficient food for this generation and the next; yet they remain one of the poorest sectors. They are continually threatened by the climate crisis, stiff market competition and declining labor force. Thus, all the more reason for the Philippine government to intensify its initiatives in strengthening the sector’s capabilities against these challenges.

There is a significant need to equip more Filipino farmers with understanding, necessary skills, tools and access to information so they could effectively cultivate their full potentials, thereby improve their livelihood. Recognizing this, the Department of Agriculture (DA)—through the Agricultural Training Institute (ATI)—the International Rice Research Institute (IRRI) and SMART Communications, Inc. joined forces to help more rice farmers increase their productivity and net income through the Rice Crop Manager (RCM)—an ICT-based decision-support tool that provides site-specific crop and nutrient management recommendations.

Through a project titled “Evaluation of the Capability of Mobile Technology to Enhance the Benefits of Crop Manager through Short Messaging Service (SMS) Advisory Service for Farmers,” the tripartite public-private partnership aims that the reach of the RCM, especially its SMS component, is extended and maximized by farmers to their advantage.

For its pilot run, 18 small-scale farmers from agricultural cooperatives in barangays Caut, Paludpud and La Purisima received mobile phones with preloaded SIM cards where they will receive text messages on RCM recommendations delivered through the DA’s Farmers’ Contact Center (FCC) operated and managed by ATI.

DA Assistant Secretary for Field Operations and National Coordinator of the Rice and Corn Program Edilberto de Luna graced the activity and spoke of the potential gains that this decision-support tool will bring to the farmers. “Agricultural extension used to be difficult in previous years but, now, we can use the help of technology to deliver timely information to farmers. This is only the beginning as we hope to upscale this project using the experiences that we will gain from this experiment,” he said.

Meanwhile, Director Asterio Saliot talked about the ATI’s effort to attract the youth to engage in agriculture through technology as part of its e-Extension Program for Agriculture and Fisheries—with its three components: e-Learning, e-Farming and e-Trading. He also looked forward to the success of the project and for its expansion to benefit corn, vegetables and other crops farmers as well as inclusion of weather advisories.

He added, “In the face of aging Filipino farmers and our vulnerability to typhoons, the government, the private sector and other organizations are continuously forming partnerships to help uplift the lives of farmers and mitigate the effects of climate change.”

The RCM project was developed by IRRI for the Philippines and funded by the DA—through the Food Staples Sufficiency Program—as an ICT-based extension service that aims to contribute to the implementation of appropriate ‘modern precision farming’.

Caut Farmers Farmers Field School Marketing Cooperative President Alex Cancio thanked the DA, the ATI, IRRI and SMART for enabling them to access up-to-date information that can help increase their yield. He also shared how the Nutrient Manager for Rice, the RCM’s older version, allowed him to harvest 9.1 tons per hectare when he first used the service in 2011.

The signing of a Memorandum of Agreement among the DA, IRRI and SMART capped off the mobile phone distribution activity at the La Paz Gymnasium last December 17, 2015.