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Text Message Offers Crop Advice for Philippine Rice Farmers

A farmer in Laguna Province will soon receive advice on how to increase his rice field's productivity on his mobile phone.

A new program offers rice farmers in the Philippines advice on fertilizer use via their cell phones.

International Rice Research Institute scientists have spent 18 years refining a computerized system to give farmers advice on just how much fertilizer to use get the most out of their rice crops.

Last year, they came up with a technology they believe is the first of its kind in the world. IRRI Senior Scientist Roland Buresh created an application that brings fertilizer advice to remote farmers via text message. The technology is just right for a country where more than 90 percent of the population owns a cell phone.

Buresh says each rice field is different and this makes it hard for farmers to gauge just how much fertilizer to use.

"It could have been different management of crop residues,' Buresh said. "It could contain nutrients that are recycled into the next crop. It could be different rotations of cropping. It could be different varieties. Each one of these factors influences the amount of nutrient needed."

Starting Monday, farmers can dial a toll-free number on their cell phones, and answer a list of questions about their fields, then get tips on the best fertilizer use. The entire system is automated and delivered in four languages used in the Philippines, including English:

"You will receive a text message indicating how much fertilizer to apply to your field through more yield per amount of fertilizer used. Any time you would like to repeat the question press the asterisk key on the bottom left hand side of the phone’s keypad."

Once the survey is done, farmers receive a text message with the amount of fertilizer needed. If they need more help, they can call another toll-free number to speak with a specialist at the Department of Agriculture.

Buresh says if the technology is used correctly farmers could yield $100 more per hectare. Here, as elsewhere in Asia, many rice farmers plant less than one hectare.

IRRI scientists are working with Indonesian colleagues to adapt the system there, and over the next few years they plan to take the technology to Vietnam, India and Bangladesh.

The Philippines is the world’s largest importer of rice. But the Agriculture Department has been pushing to expand domestic production, particularly after global rice prices rose sharply in 2008.