Pinoy tablet computer to advance agricultural entrepreneurship, empower farmers through information-DA

April 27, 2012 by  
Filed under News

GaiaSingingFlowersThe Department of Agriculture (DA) is seeking partnerships for a proposed cheap Pinoy tablet computer that will advance agricultural entrepreneurship by empowering farmers with critical information such as soil nutrients and farm goods markets.

The DA-Bureau of Agricultural Research (BAR), together with the International Crops Research Institute for the Semi-Arid Tropics (ICRISAT), is seeking to develop a very affordable tablet computer that will give DA’s extension workers—technicians that educate farmers— access to critical farm information.

The tablet computer should have a 24-7 access to internet that must be purely focused on vital farm  information (possibly blocking entertainment sites) and geographic information system (GIS).

The GIS will be pivotal in enabling farmers to determine whether the crop they are planting in a particular location is suitable to that location.  It will help then determine if the type of soil needs certain types of fertilizer, or whether water or moisture needed in plant growth may be sufficient in this farm area.

“We have an idea to revolutionize Philippine agriculture.  We’re bringing a proof of concept tapping the power of Information Technology so we can inform farmers well. There’s no other than the DA (led by Sec. Proceso Alcala) that’s leading in enhancing the welfare of the farming community in the country,” said Dr. William D. Dar, ICRISAT director general.

ICRISAT’s network in India where Dar, a former DA secretary, is based will extend the Philippines assistance in fabricating the hardware, the tablet PC.

“If we want to move forward, we have to start the first step.  That’s what a famous Chinese philosopher said,’ A journey of a thousand journey miles begins with a single step,’” said Dar.

BAR will provide content for the tablet. ICRISAT is also facilitating to provide the Agropedia, a farm management system that a consortium of seven institutions, including ICRISAT, developed to aid Indian farmers.

“The Agropedia will be very useful to our own farmers, initially to our extension workers.  We’ll discuss on how to implement this project with our partners in DA, the ITCAF (Information Technology Center for Agriculture and Fisheries), and the private sector,” said Dr. Nicomedes P Eleazar, BAR director.

Indo US Healthcare Chairman Arun Tiwani said Indian Telephone Industry, run by the Indian government, can fabricate the tablet for the Philippines given government’s approval.

“We’ll have a bilateral agreement.  William Dar is using his experience and influence in India to produce for the Philippines the kind of tablet computer that India will have for its students in three to six months,” said Tiwani in a discussion last April 10 in the Philippines on the tablet computer.

Tiwani envisioned a “Pnoy (to stand for Pres. Benigno S. Aquino III) Dar Tablet” computer  that will cost only around $100 (P4,300) each.

It may be provided for free by government.  In India, the tablet computer for students costs only $50 of which $25 is shouldered by the government, and the $25 is paid by the student.

Access to internet is provided by the Indian government, which also controls the telecommunications business, at only an equivalent of P100 per month.  An initial 100,000 tablet computers will be produced in India for the pilot stage of the project. A similar volume may be produced for the Philippines.

“When I first saw Agropedia in India, I thought it’s really revolutionary.  It will be a giant leap for us in sharing experts’ information and practical knowledge between us and our farmers.  We don’t want to miss the train.   We will seek enough support for it to be approved,” said ITCAF Director Gary Glenn B. Fantastico.

The Philippines must be fortunate that the Agropedia has an intellectual property nature that may be available to anyone.

However, the country also needs to partner with other institutions for internet connectivity and for customizing the software for Filipino farm workers and farmers.

“ICRISAT is partnering with Arun to make it a platform for agriculture utilizing initially Agropedia which was funded by the Indian Council of Agricultural Research.  Since it’s for public good, we can use it globally.  We can customize it for Philippine condition.  That’s where we need partnerships,” said Dar.

Ching Natividad Caballero, chief executive officer of BAR IT consultant Optiserve, said a similar GIS system as that provided to Indian farmers through India’s National Remote Sensing Institute may enable Filipino farmers to have ready information on their soil and its needed fertilizers.

The GIS system in Karnataka, India has enabled an impressive increase of 50 to 60 percent on farmers’ harvest of crops like corn or soybean on over three million hectares of land even if these farm areas are really a dryland.

“We mapped Karnataka through GIS.  It was a real science-based solution that we depended on in increasing productivity.  That’s what we want to introduce in the Philippines in a big way because we have the components, said  ICRISAT Resilient Dryland Systems Chief Suhas P. Wani in the same tablet discussion.

“We have farmers assisted by multi-agencies that have a common path in a consortium approach.  It should be a convergence, or else farmers will be confused.”

Wani said that because of the success of Karnataka in using technology for productivity, this project is now being upscaled in several Indian states including Andhra Pradesh, Tamil Nadu, and Maharashtra.

“If we can do it in India, why can’t you do it here?” said Wani.

Dr. Michelle C. Almendrala, Philippine Sugar Research Institute director general, said the tablet computer will have a big impact in raising sugarcane productivity and may supplement on-farm training of farmers.

“Instead of going from farm to farm doing lectures on soil analysis and irrigation, we can just use this tablet with programs in any dialect to teach farmers.  We can also try to input programs for fertilizer calculation, depending on the type of soil or fertilizer,” said Almendrala.

Content from the existing Open Philippine Academy for Philippine Agriculture run by the DA may already be installed on the tablet computer.

DA Planning Director Agnes Catherine T. Miranda said the tablet computer will also provide for better linkage between farmers and the market for agricultural goods which is a common hindrance in the aim to help raise farmers’ income.

Aside from providing it to students, the Indian government also has a tablet PC project for its rural healthcare workers.

Likewise implemented by Arun’s Indo US Healthcare, the tablet for rural healthcare was spearheaded by former Indian President Abdul Kalam which has led India’s missile defense technology.

“While the Kalam-Raju stent created waves for its affordability, the Kalam-Raju tablet is aimed at arming healthcare workers at the primary level like doctors.  It is (a system to make healthcare workers become) first responders to an emergency with a ‘rugged’ tablet capable of performing a host of medical processes at the rural level,” according to Andhra Pradesh.

(For any questions, please email Dr. William D. Dar, w.dar@cgiar.org, or kindly text or call 0917-979-1629.   Dr. Dar, based in India, may be available for interview in the Philippines, up to the first week of May)

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