Stories tagged: Philippines

How Technology is Helping Filipino Farmers Weather Storms

As Asia-Pacific Climate Week continues, Gigi Gatti, Director of Technology for Development at Grameen Foundation blogs about the impact the NGO’s FarmerLink initiative has had on building the resilience of coconut farmers to climate shocks.

Every year farmers in the Philippines brace themselves for the inevitable tropical cyclones and their devastating impact. This year is no different. The seventh storm hit this week. They may get as many as 20 storms by December.

The challenge is especially acute for the smallholder farmers that power the country’s coconut export industry. Although the Philippines is the world’s second-largest coconut producer, more than 60 percent of the 3.5 million farmers remain entrenched in poverty, earning less than $400 per year.

Since 2013, coconut farmers have lost more than 40 million trees to storms and pests. Many are still recovering as replanted coconut seedlings can take eight to ten years to mature and another decade to reach full production. It is a precarious timeline for families struggling to make ends meet. Their situation is further compounded by declining yields from aging trees and limited access to the financing and training needed to bolster their farms.

In 2015, Grameen Foundation and its partners launched FarmerLink, a first-of-its kind mobile-based farmer advisory service that simultaneously links poor coconut farmers to an early warning system, vital agricultural training, financial services and market buyers.

FarmerLink supports two-way communication and offline data collection, and can be used in remote areas that lack data connectivity. Field agents and other trusted local advisors use the FarmerLink tool to collect rich, real-time, farm-level data and create individualized farm development plans for farmers, and to send targeted alerts and agronomic advice via SMS These messages reinforce the training provided by field agents, as well as financial advice.

During the 18-month pilot, which was funded by the Global Resilience Partnership, we sent agronomic advice to 27,557 farmers, while agents provided individualized plans and training to 1,525 farmers. Farm agents were also able to reduce the time spent on organic certification inspections to 14 minutes (a 62% time reduction).

FarmerLink offers some key lessons for technology-based agricultural services.

Build partnerships for long-term resilience

Farmers’ complex needs require different stakeholders with complementary interests and capabilities. The Philippine Coconut Agency needed new ways to grow the industry. Franklin Baker wanted to ensure a consistent supply of high-quality nuts. The People’s Bank of Caraga developed a special loan to enable farmers to intercrop cacao and coconut and diversify their incomes.

Embed inclusive decision-making processes

We adopted user-centered design principles that allowed us to adjust the design and implementation of the project to meet farmers’ needs. For example, we designed a calendar to help farmers follow the agronomic advice and, despite the Philippines’ high literacy rate overall, identified the need for videos to provide FarmerLink services to less literate farmers.

Embrace tension between outreach and impact

As grant terms shorten, especially for projects that are testing new ground, there must be a healthy balance between outreach and impact during program design and rollout. While our 18-month project timeline and the natural life cycle of coconuts limited our ability to fully capture impact, we identified early markers of change that, if sustained over time, can provide meaningful indicators.

In our current phase work, we are helping the People’s Bank of Caraga provide loans to farmers and worked with the Philippine Coconut Authority to expand the functionality of the FarmerLink tool. Farmers still receive SMS updates and we are testing other sources of weather data to enhance the early warning system alerts they receive.

As smallholder farmers continue to grapple with the complexities and challenges of climate change and evolving market forces, mobile agriculture will play an increasingly critical role in shaping a new agricultural system. We believe tools like FarmerLink help to ensure that smallholder farmers are a vital part of the future of agriculture.

10 Ways Agriculture is Improving Lives in Asia

In this latest instalment of our “Supporter Spotlight” series, we take a trip to Asia to learn about the innovative projects Farming First supporters are working on all over the continent to improve food security and farmers’ lives.

1. Fintrac: Beating Drought with Smart Water Management in Cambodia

When the rains did not come in 2015, one group of farmers in the northeastern province of Pursat not only survived, but thrived. They had banded together to form a Water User Group, that managed farmer access to the Polyum Canal. By maximising efficiency and eliminating conflict around water use, and using good agricultural practices taught by the Cambodia HARVEST program, group members have increased their productivity from an average of 2,500 kilograms per hectare to more than 4,000. As a result, their household incomes have increased by 536 percent! Read more >>

2. GAIN: Meet the Wheatamix Women in India

Through funding from the Bestseller Foundation, GAIN is working in the states of Karnataka and Bihar in India to improve the nutrition and lives of groups of semi-literate women. These women are trained to run their own factories producing a quality blended complementary food product called ”Wheatamix” in Bihar and “Shakhti Vita” in Karnataka. This complementary food product, fortified with vitamins and minerals, has the potential to reach thousands of women, adolescents and children in the region. Read more >>


3. CropLife: An Indian Farmer Perspective on Biotechnology

In this interview with CropLife International, Balwinder Singh shares his experience of planting an insect-resistant strain of cotton. “I was lucky to be part of the trial when Bt cotton came to India, and when I saw the benefits of this technology; I was the first person to say, this is what is going to save us,” he said. “I took a gamble, and took an additional 50 hectares of land on lease to sow Bt cotton.  It has paid off and my family is enjoying a decent living.” Read more >>

4. IPNI: Healthier Soils Make Indian Farmers More Maize

Access to water has created a challenge for many Indian farmers, increasing interest in alternative crops to flooded rice. Working in West Bengal, research staff at the International Plant Nutrition Institute have focused on developing a rice-maize rotation as an alternative to rice to address the water challenge. Research showed that adding potassium, phosphorus, sulphur and zinc in order to grow maize effectively added US$80 – $290/ha to the farmer’s income. Not only was the maize yield increased, but similar responses were recorded in the rice in these on-farm trials. Read more >>

5. CNFA: Building a Network for Agro-Input Services in Bangladesh 

CNFA implements the USAID-funded Agro-Inputs Project (AIP) to improve the knowledge of and access to quality agricultural inputs for farmers in Bangladesh. CNFA provides trainings and technical assistance on business management and ethics, basic agronomics, safe use and handling of pesticides and other related topics to 3,000 agro-input retailers. Of this, 300 women-retailers are specifically targeted. These agro-input retailers are expected to serve 1 million smallholder farmers, impacting more than 5 million individuals across 20 southern districts of Bangladesh, generating more than $100 million in sales. Read more >>

6. Livelihoods: Mangroves Restore Agricultural Land in Indonesia 

In 1987, Northern Sumatra had 200,000 hectares of mangroves. Today, less than half of that amount remains, with only 83,000 hectares standing. This Livelihoods project has restored mangrove forests, and as a result, increases the safety of the local population. Replanting coastal mangroves significantly buffers coastal communities from future tsunamis akin to that of the 2004 tsunami. Mangrove forests also help to restore vital agricultural land. Additionally, this project generates new sources of economic income. Local villagers are able to increase their revenues by selling the by-products of the mangroves such as fish, mollusks, batik dye and honey. Read more >>


7. HarvestPlus: Iron Pearl Millet Enriches Diets in India

Iron deficiency is rampant in India, affecting 7 out of 10 children. It impairs mental development and learning capacity, increases weakness and fatigue, and may increase the risk of women dying during childbirth. HarvestPlus is working with partners to promote varieties of pearl millet rich in iron, to help combat malnutrition. Read more >>

8. iDE: Saving Time and Earning Money Through Water Access in Nepal 

Rural villages in Nepal lack several basic services, but the primary issue for many is access to water. Multiple-Use Water Systems (MUS) are an improved approach to water resource management, which taps and stores water and distributes it to households in small communities to meet both domestic and household agricultural needs. In addition to dramatically decreasing the workload of women and girls, MUSs provide benefits in health and sanitation, as well as enabling communities to improve their decisions on the allocation of water resources. “After we got the water it was easy to grow vegetables,” says Kamala Pariyar, a rural farmer in Dikurpokhari. “I used to ask my husband for money to buy basic things. Now, by selling the vegetables, I can earn 600 rupees a day. I have enough money.” Read more >>

9. World Vision: Mangrove Planting Revitalizes Philippine Fishing Community

When a fishing village in the western part of Leyte in the Philippines was struggling to catch enough to feed their families, World Vision helped to implement a mangrove planting initiative. Each family was provided with an average of 1,000 mangrove stalks to plant in the area near their house, to provide a safe habitat of various species of fish, where they can lay their eggs without being disturbed by double net fishing. There is now abundant fish for catching once more, and the community is protected from the risk of typhoons. Read more >>


10. IFA: Combatting Iodine Deficiencies Through Fertigation

Globally it is estimated that 2.2 billion people in the world are at a risk of iodine deficiency, which causes a wide range of physiological abnormalities, mainly related to defective mental development and brain damage. The content of iodine in food depends on the iodine content of the soils in which crops are grown. In Xinjiang Province, in the North West of China, the soil is particularly poor in iodine with an associated high infant-mortality rate. A project was put in place to supply the water irrigation system with iodine using an iodine fertilizer dripping technique, called fertigation. With this technique, the iodine from the treated water is absorbed by the soil and progresses through plants, animals and humans that eat the iodine-rich plants. Thanks to this project, rates of infant mortality halved and local livestock production increased by 40% in the first year! Read more >>

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Innovation and training improve livelihoods of mango growers

To protect mature mango trees from disease and insect infestations, growers in the Philippines in provinces such as Batangas, Laguna, Pangasinan, Davao and Cebu used to be heavy users of crop protection products. Spray applicators would regularly climb the trees with equipment to apply products. Accidents involving workers falling from trees and sustaining injuries were common, as was heavy exposure to pesticide.

To improve safety for spray applicators, CropLife Philippines partnered with the Fertilizer and Pesticides Authority between 2006 and 2008 to develop an innovative crop protection product applicator. The extendable pole, made from either bamboo or aluminum alloy, enables spray applicators to spray mango trees from the ground. The partners have documented the methodology in a training handbook to benefit the industry, applicators and growers.

In addition to creating the extendable pole for spray applicators, the partners also launched training initiatives on Good Agricultural Practices, including Integrated Pest Management (IPM). IPM is an effective and environmentally friendly method of controlling pests. Farmers have learnt how to identify plant diseases and insect infestation levels and make decisions on the type and amount of pesticide to use by following the exact instructions on the product labels.


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