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

    Video Rubio Looks to Surge in New Hampshire

    Republican presidential candidate has moved into second place in several recent surveys and appears to be gaining ground on longtime frontrunner Donald Trump

    UN Calls for Global Ban on Female Genital Mutilation

    Recent UNICEF report finds at least 200 million girls and women alive today have undergone female genital mutilation in 30 countries

    UN Pilots New Peace Approach in CAR

    Approach launched in northern town of Kaga Bandoro, where former combatants of mainly Muslim Seleka armed group and Christian and animist anti-Balaka movement are being paid to do community work

    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.
    German Artists to Memorialize Refugees With Life Jacket Exhibiti
    X
    Hamada Elsaram
    February 05, 2016 4:30 PM
    Sold in every kind of shop in some Turkish port towns, life jackets have become a symbol of the refugee crisis that brought a million people to Europe in 2015.  On the shores of Lesbos, Greece, German artists collect discarded life jackets as they prepare an art installation they plan to display in Germany.  For VOA, Hamada Elrasam has this report from Lesbos, Greece.
    Video

    Video German Artists to Memorialize Refugees With Life Jacket Exhibit

    Sold in every kind of shop in some Turkish port towns, life jackets have become a symbol of the refugee crisis that brought a million people to Europe in 2015.  On the shores of Lesbos, Greece, German artists collect discarded life jackets as they prepare an art installation they plan to display in Germany.  For VOA, Hamada Elrasam has this report from Lesbos, Greece.
    Video

    Video E-readers Help Ease Africa's Book Shortage

    Millions of people in Africa can't read, and there's a chronic shortage of books. A non-profit organization called Worldreader is trying to help change all that one e-reader at a time. VOA’s Deborah Block tells us about a girls' school in Nairobi, Kenya where Worldreader is making a difference.
    Video

    Video Genius Lets World Share Its Knowledge

    Inspired by crowdsourcing companies like Wikipedia, Genius allows anyone to edit anything on the web, using its web annotation tool
    Video

    Video Former Drug CEO Martin Shkreli Angers US Lawmakers

    A former U.S. pharmaceutical business executive has angered lawmakers by refusing to explain why he raised the price of a life-saving pill by 5,000 percent. Martin Shkreli was removed from a congressional hearing on Thursday after citing his Fifth Amendment right to stay silent. Zlatica Hoke has more.
    Video

    Video Super Bowl TV Commercials are Super Business for Advertisers

    The Super Bowl, the championship clash between the two top teams in American Football, is the most-watched sporting event of the year, and advertisers are lining up and paying big bucks to get their commercials on the air. In fact, the TV commercials during the Super Bowl have become one of the most anticipated and popular features of the event. VOA's Brian Allen has a sneak peek of what you can expect to see when the big game goes to commercial break, and the real entertainment begins.
    Video

    Video In Philippines, Mixed Feelings About Greater US Military Presence

    In the Philippines, some who will be directly affected by a recent Supreme Court decision clearing the way for more United States troop visits are having mixed reactions.  The increased rotations come at a time when the Philippines is trying to build up its military in the face of growing maritime assertiveness from China.  From Bahile, Palawan on the coast of the South China Sea, Simone Orendain has this story.
    Video

    Video Microcephaly's Connection to Zika: Guilty Until Proven Innocent

    The Zika virus rarely causes problems for the people who get it, but it seems to be having a devastating impact on babies whose mothers are infected with Zika. VOA's Carol Pearson has more.
    Video

    Video Solar Innovation Provides Cheap, Clean Energy to Kenya Residents

    In Kenya, a company called M-Kopa Solar is providing clean energy to more than 300,000 homes across East Africa by allowing customers to "pay-as-you-go" via their cell phones. As Lenny Ruvaga reports from Kangemi, customers pay a small deposit for a solar unit and then pay less than a dollar a day to get clean energy to light up their homes or businesses.
    Video

    Video Stunning Artworks Attract Record Crowds, Thanks to Social Media

    A new exhibit at the oldest art museum in America is shattering attendance records. Thousands of visitors are lining up to see nine giant works of art that have gotten a much-deserved shot of viral marketing. The 150-year-old Smithsonian American Art Museum has never had a response quite like this. VOA's Julie Taboh reports.
    Video

    Video Apprenticeships Put Americans on Path Back to Work

    Trying to get more people into the U.S. workforce, the Obama administration last year announced $175 million in grants towards apprenticeship programs. VOA White House correspondent Aru Pande went inside one training center outside of Washington that has gained national recognition for helping put people on the path to employment.
    Video

    Video New Material May Reduce Concussion Effects

    As the 2016 National Football League season reaches its summit at the Super Bowl this coming Sunday (2/7), scientists are trying to learn how to more effectively protect football players from dangerous and damaging concussions. Researchers at Cardiff and Cambridge Universities say their origami-based material may solve the problem. VOA’s George Putic reports.
    Video

    Video Saudi Arabian Women's Sports Chip Away at Stereotypes

    Saudi Arabian female athletes say that sports are on the front line of busting traditions that quash women’s voices, both locally and internationally. In their hometown of Jeddah, a group of basketball players say that by connecting sports to health issues, they are encouraging women and girls to get out of their homes and participate in public life. VOA’s Heather Murdock reports.
    Video

    Video A Year Later, Fortunes Mixed for Syrians Forging New Lives in Berlin

    In April of last year, VOA followed the progress of six young Syrian refugees -- four brothers and their two friends -- as they made their way from Libya to Italy by boat, and eventually to Germany. Reporter Henry Ridgwell caught up with the refugees again in Berlin, as they struggle to forge new lives amid the turmoil of Europe's refugee crisis.
    Video

    Video Zika Virus May be Hard to Stop

    With the Zika virus spreading rapidly, the World Health Organization Monday declared Zika a global health emergency. As Alberto Pimienta reports, for many governments and experts, the worst is yet to come.