Rice farmers in the Philippines are being given advice on best fertilizer use through a new text message programme.
The scheme, thought to be a worldwide first, has been launched by the International Rice Research Institute (IRRI) where scientists have spent 18 years refining a computerized system to advise farmers on optimal fertilizer use via their cell phones. Farmers in the most remote areas can receive fertilizer advice via text message. Launched in the Philippines, where more than 90 percent of the population owns a mobile phone, the technology holds great potential.
The computer tool, called Nutrient Manager for Rice, is based on the site-specific nutrient management (SSNM) approach developed by the IRRI which offers principles for nutrient best management practices. Studies on the SSNM principles have shown them to increase rice yield and profit, increase the efficiency of fertilizer use and reduce the leakage of nutrients to the environment.
Nutrient Manager for Rice is tailored to the rice-growing conditions of a country or region and is user-friendly for extension workers, crop advisors and farmers without any need for soil and plant analyses.
The user dials a toll-free number on their mobile phone, answers a list of 10 to 15 multiple-choice questions about their fields, and then they will receive a text message indicating the amounts, sources and timings of fertilizer application for that specific rice field. The service is automated and delivered in 4 languages that are used in the Philippines, including English. A demonstration of the service is available on the internet (www.irri.org/nmrice).
Ninety percent of the world’s rice is produced and consumed in Asia. Fertilizers are an important input for producing sufficient supplies of rice to meet increasing demands.
In an interview with Voice of America, IRRI Senior Scientist Roland Buresh said that if the technology is used correctly farmers could yield $100 more per hectare.
IRRI are now working to develop the technology to the needs of rice farmers in South India, Vietnam and West Africa; maize in Bangladesh; and the rice-wheat cropping system in North India.
For more information on this programme, click here to go the IFA’s website.