Making PH agriculture smart | Inquirer Opinion

Making PH agriculture smart

/ 04:35 AM May 29, 2024

Information is power, it’s been said.

And in agriculture, correct and timely information can mean the difference between a painful loss because of a failed crop and a sizable profit that should encourage a farmer to keep on working the land instead of giving it up altogether to pursue alternative ways to earn money.

But for far too long, most smallholder farmers in the Philippines did not have access to information that they can actually use to boost their farm’s output and earnings and escape the grip of poverty.

The Marcos administration can alter that dire situation by pushing for the widespread adoption of agriculture-focused technologies such as Project Sarai (Smarter Approaches to Reinvigorate Agriculture as an Industry in the Philippines).Developed by the University of the Philippines Los Baños and funded by the Philippine Council for Agriculture, Aquatic, and Natural Resources Research and Development of the Department of Science and Technology, Project Sarai aims to provide farmers and other stakeholders with site-specific crop advisories using advanced satellite technology to help increase the quantity and quality of farm yield and mitigate the adverse effects of climate change.


Agriculture 4.0

Project Sarai, which focuses on the country’s major crops—rice, corn, banana, coconut, coffee, cacao, sugarcane, soybean, and tomato—has already demonstrated tangible benefits on the ground, helping farmers know the kind of crops they should plant, where and when they should plant them, and how to deal with pests and diseases.

This it was able to do through the crop advisories that Project Sarai said integrate local weather data and drought forecast with farm management activities, specifically nutrient and water management, and proactive pest and disease monitoring.

Knowing when it will rain, for example, helps farmers know when to minimize water use and save on irrigation expenses. Project Sarai’s fertilizer application and pest management components also help farmers decide when to apply fertilizer, harvest, and know when the pest incidence is becoming a problem long before it becomes a major issue.

Technology experts believe that extensive use of practical information acquired from Project Sarai can dramatically improve farm productivity, and bring the Philippines closer to the era of what is called Agriculture 4.0, also called smart farming or digital agriculture where digital tools including satellite imagery and drones are added as input just as much as water, seeds, and fertilizer.


Average Filipino farmer

As Iloilo businessman Jessraf Palmares, president of the National ICT Confederation of the Philippines (NICP), said in a recent convention in Baguio City, “we have to approach farming in a scientific way.”

“If you have no data, you cannot manage anything,” added Bukidnon businessman and NICP trustee Roberto Tinsay.


Indeed, the Philippines has no choice but to embrace technology as the land dedicated to agriculture will not likely increase but the population will, thus the only path left is to increase the yield from the available land, partly through harnessing data.

In the first quarter, farm output growth weakened to 0.05 percent to P428.99 billion, a slowdown from the 2.1-percent expansion recorded in the same period last year but just as agricultural inputs and credit extension and seed technology can add to the output, agriculture technology can be a game changer, too.

The application of technology to boost agricultural production and make the farms profitable should also help the young Filipinos interested in farming, given that the average Filipino farmer is nearing 60 years old, and even they discourage their children from taking up farming because of their own difficulties eking out a decent living from their farm.

Crowdsourcing data

“Magtanim ay ’di biro (Farming is no joke),” goes the sad refrain, after all.

But equipped with practical knowledge, the next generation can sing a new tune and Project Sarai as well as other technologies being developed by the country’s research and development units, including state universities, can help them do just that.

By crowdsourcing data from the ground, government agencies such as the National Economic and Development Authority can craft policies on how to respond to climate change, for example, all by using accurate information from the farmers themselves.

This way, those in the field have a direct input in the data that are used to inform agriculture policies that will directly affect them and perhaps lure the next generation to come in and take over the farms, too, with the entrepreneurial approach to agriculture.

As former agriculture secretary William Dar said back in 2020, engaging the youth in agriculture was “imperative” to ensure that the Philippines will be able to produce enough food to feed its own growing population.

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With technology and laudable efforts such as Project Sarai, agriculture can get its groove back.


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