News / Asia

Mobile Phones Help Farmers Feed Their Fields

Agriculture extension program in the Philippines will soon deliver fertilizer advice by text message

Fertilizer is an essential but expensive ingredient to maximize yield. Here, an IRRI technician checks leaf color to effectively manage the nitrogen levels of rice plants.
Fertilizer is an essential but expensive ingredient to maximize yield. Here, an IRRI technician checks leaf color to effectively manage the nitrogen levels of rice plants.

Multimedia

Audio

Researchers in the Philippines will soon use mobile phones to help farmers use just the right amount of fertilizer, maximizing their harvests, saving them money and protecting the environment.

It's a novel way to deliver important information to remote farmers who don't otherwise have access to expert advice.

For farmers looking to get the most out of their fields, fertilizer is an essential but expensive ingredient.

"Fertilizers represent about 20 percent of the input costs in rice production for farmers," says soil scientist Roland Buresh at the International Rice Research Institute. "So it's really quite important."

Getting it just right

Buresh has spent years researching optimal fertilizer conditions. Too little means lower yields and lower profits. Too much wastes money and causes pollution. But because every farmer's field is different, figuring out exactly how much to use is complicated.

What farmers do with rice straw after harvest -- burn it or return it to the field -- affects how much fertilizer to use.
What farmers do with rice straw after harvest -- burn it or return it to the field -- affects how much fertilizer to use.

Buresh and his colleagues have come up with a set of key questions that will help farmers make that decision.

"The unique thing about some of these decision tools is really how simple they are," he says. "The questions we're asking are really readily answerable."

Dial 'M' for manure

And to make it even simpler, farmers will soon be able to answer those questions using their mobile phones.

When the program launches in the Philippines in a few weeks, a farmer can call a toll-free number and hear a recording in his or her language that will ask questions about the size of the field, how much rice it produced last season, sources of natural fertilizers such as rice straw or sediment from river flooding, and so on.

The farmer answers the questions using the keypad on their mobile phones. A computer does the calculations and sends a text message with the amount and type of fertilizer to apply.

Farmers apply fertilizer to an experimental rice field.
Farmers apply fertilizer to an experimental rice field.

Making money, protecting the environment

Buresh says the impact on farmers' incomes could be substantial.

"Just a back-of-the-envelope calculation shows that in the Philippines, if we in a year can be reaching just five thousand farmers and their fields can be increasing the yield by half a ton per hectare, we could be looking at profitabilities for those farmers in the range of half a million dollars."

In addition to the financial benefits, it could also help farmers reduce fertilizer pollution.

"In the Philippines and all over Asia, fertilizer has been overused and misused because no one explains to them how much they need or how to use it," says Danielle Nierenberg, a senior researcher with the environmental research organization the Worldwatch Institute.

Nearly everyone has one

Nierenberg says the potential for the technology goes far beyond Asia. She's been traveling across sub-Saharan Africa for the last eight months, and everywhere she goes, from remote villages in Uganda to poor farmers in Niger, nearly everyone has a mobile phone.

"Because it's easy and cheap and every farmer can basically get their own [mobile] phone or borrow someone's down the road, I think it's increasingly a way for them to gain access to things they didn't have before," she says.

In Zambia, for example, farmers without bank accounts can use their cell phones to buy seeds and fertilizers. They can also find out how much their crop is selling for in the city markets.

"They can decide whether they want to travel all the way from their village to the city," she adds, "because sometimes farmers get there and prices are too low." Their mobile phones could save them a trip.

So, while it may not be good for plowing a field or harvesting vegetables, the mobile phone is becoming one of a farmer's most valuable tools.

You May Like

Reports of Mass Murder on Mediterranean Smuggler’s Boat

Boat sailed from Libya with 750 migrants aboard and arrived in Italy with 569 More

Video New Thailand Hotline Targets Misbehaving Monks

Officials say move aims to restore country’s image of Buddhism, tarnished by recent high profile scandals such as opulent lifestyle, drug and alcohol abuse, as well as child sex abuse More

Study: Dust from Sahara Helped Form Bahama Islands

What does the Sahara have in common with a Caribbean island? Quite a lot, researchers say More

This forum has been closed.
Comments
     
There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Astronauts Train in Underwater Labi
X
George Putic
July 25, 2014 7:25 PM
In the world’s only underwater laboratory, four U.S. astronauts train for a planned visit to an asteroid. The lab - called Aquarius- is located five kilometers off Key Largo, in southern Florida. Living in close quarters and making excursions only into the surrounding ocean, they try to simulate the daily routine of a crew that will someday travel to collect samples of a rock orbiting far away from earth. VOA’s George Putic has more.
Video

Video Astronauts Train in Underwater Lab

In the world’s only underwater laboratory, four U.S. astronauts train for a planned visit to an asteroid. The lab - called Aquarius- is located five kilometers off Key Largo, in southern Florida. Living in close quarters and making excursions only into the surrounding ocean, they try to simulate the daily routine of a crew that will someday travel to collect samples of a rock orbiting far away from earth. VOA’s George Putic has more.
Video

Video Not Even Monks Spared From Thailand’s Junta-Backed Morality Push

With Thailand’s military government firmly in control after May’s bloodless coup, authorities are carrying out plans they say are aimed at restoring discipline, morality and patriotism to all Thais. The measures include a crackdown on illegal gambling, education reforms to promote students’ moral development, and a new 24-hour phone hotline for citizens to report misbehaving monks. Steve Sandford reports from Bangkok.
Video

Video Virtual Program Teaches Farming Skills

In a fast-changing world beset by unpredictable climate conditions, farmers cannot afford to ignore new technology. Researchers in Australia are developing an online virtual world program to share information about climate change and more sustainable farming techniques for sugar cane growers. As VOA's Zlatica Hoke reports, the idea is to create a wider support network for farmers.
Video

Video Airline Expert: Missile will Show Signature on Debris

The debris field from Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 is spread over a 21-kilometer radius in eastern Ukraine. It is expected to take investigators months to sort through the airplane pieces to learn about the missile that brought down the jetliner and who fired it. VOAs Carolyn Presutti explains how this work will be done.
Video

Video Treatment for Childhood Epilepsy Heats up Medical Marijuana Debate

In the United States, marijuana is classed as an illegal drug by the federal government. But nearly half the states have legalized it, to some degree. Proponents say some strains of marijuana might have exceptional health benefits, for treating pain or inflammation in chronic conditions such as cancer, multiple sclerosis and epilepsy. Shelley Schlender reports on a strain of medical marijuana developed in Colorado that is reputed to reduce seizures in childhood epilepsy
Video

Video Airbus Adds Metal 3D Printed Parts to New Jets

By the end of this year, European aircraft manufacturing consortium Airbus plans to deliver the first of its new, extra-wide-body passenger jets, the A350-XWB. Among other technological innovations, the new plane will also incorporate metal parts made in a 3-D printer. VOA's George Putic has more.
Video

Video AIDS Conference Welcomes Exciting Developments in HIV Treatment, Prevention

Significant strides have been made in recent years toward the treatment and prevention of HIV, the virus that causes AIDS. This year, at the International AIDS Conference, the AIDS community welcomed progress on a new pill that may prevent transmission of the deadly virus. VOA’s Anita Powell reports from Melbourne, Australia.
Video

Video IAEA: Iran Turns its Enriched Uranium Into Less Harmful Form

Iran has converted its stockpiles of enriched uranium into a less dangerous form that is more difficult to use for nuclear weapons, according to the United Nations’ Atomic Energy Agency. The move complies with an interim deal reached with Western powers on Iran's nuclear program last year, in exchange for easing of sanctions. Henry Ridgwell reports for VOA from London.

AppleAndroid