Face-to-face communication is among the casualties of the COVID-19 pandemic. But Information and Communications Technology (ICT) has helped us remain connected somehow, providing a safe solution to survive the new normal.
In rice farming, ICT-based technologies are supplying stakeholders, particularly farmers, science-based information that they can depend on in their decision-making – it’s all in their phones or computers.
Even before the pandemic, efforts to harness the power of ICT in rice farming have already been exerted.
DA-PhilRice started accelerating its investment in ICT in the early 2000s with the nationwide implementation of the Open Academy for Philippine Agriculture that complemented and supplemented face-to-face rice extension services to reach farmers in “unreachable” areas with more timely information.
The program trained agricultural extension workers and farmers in using ICT, established 12 cyber communities that served as ICT access points, and developed ICT-enabled services, some of which have been sustained until today like the now-called PhilRice Text Center and Pinoy Rice Knowledge Bank.
Since the turn of the century DA-PhilRice has continued making strides in developing ICT-anchored technologies that include automated systems, and the use of drones and satellite technology. The Institute also embarked on developing mobile applications that offer crop management advisories with some of them now available for download such as the eDamuhan, LCC (Leaf Color Chart), Binhing Palay, MOET (Minus-One-Element Technique), and AgRiDoc apps.
Let’s savor the stories of adopters of these technologies.
Binhing Palay app
Born to a farming family, Floro B. Bernal of Davao City has known rice since childhood. Even so, he still considers himself a newbie who needs to “eat a ton of rice” before he could master the craft of producing it.
“I recognize that I still have a lot to learn and the farm management practices I knew as a young man may no longer be effective today. That’s why I researched a lot about rice farming. I also introduced myself to the local agriculture office so they could inform me on anything new about rice. That’s when I stumbled upon the Binhing Palay app,” he started his story.
The app he’s referring to provides a list of locally released rice varieties with their agronomic characteristics, such as average and maximum yields, plant height, resistance to pest and diseases, milling recovery, and amylose content that determines the eating quality of cooked rice.
“Before, I was so innocent about these things,” he said. Prior to using the app, Bernal admitted that he just planted any variety on his irrigated 5.5ha rice farm and consistently gained very low yields, of course. His neighbors also confirmed that in his lowland area, an 80-cavan harvest per hectare was already a jackpot.
“Hearing their testimonies I was so determined to prove them wrong—that we can produce better yields,” Bernal recalled.
Bernal later found out through the Binhing Palay app that what he had been planting were varieties fit for the uplands. Now, he plants hybrid rice varieties and always consults the app for their characteristics.
“As a salesman, I always want what’s best. With the Binhing Palay app, I get to plant the best-suited varieties for my farm and always know what to say every time someone asks me about the rices I plant,” he concluded.
Living in an area where only a few individuals have proper access to the internet, desire in mediating information to farmers drove Sarah C. Villaflor of Negros Occidental to seek various sources of science-based knowledge in rice farming.
“Many of us still lack the knowledge on modern rice crop management. Some even don’t bother learning them because they’ve been so accustomed to conventional practices or they don’t have the necessary means. As a local farmer technician, it has been my dedication to help change the situation so rice farming can be more rewarding,” Villaflor said.
While also using several apps, Villaflor since 2016 found the MOET app more fitting in their area as it does not require internet connectivity.
“Many apps require the internet to generate recommendations, which proved challenging as we don’t have that often. With the MOET app, we can provide recommendations immediately without the internet,” she clarified.
Developed to complement the MOET Kit, the MOET app identifies deficient nutrients in the soil that limit the growth of the rice crop and provides precise fertilizer recommendations.
Having constant contact with farmers, it was Fallares’ curiosity about technology that brought him to adopt the Rice Crop Manager Philippines (RCM), Binhing Palay, LCC, and eDamuhan, which he discovered on Facebook in 2019.
“When I tried the applications, I was so optimistic that these could help enhance my knowledge in rice farming to become a better source of information for farmers. They’re even more useful now as we cannot travel in groups owing to the pandemic. With the apps, we need not bring many things—we only need our smart phone to give recommendations to farmers,” Fallares said.
The RCM app provides crop and nutrient management recommendations according to specific farm conditions; LCC determines plant nitrogen, and eDamuhan helps identify and manage weeds.