UN firm tests cellphones for real-time crop forecasting

By on May 21, 2017


The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) said the exercise is focusing on the possibility that farmers, through cellular phones, could improve the speed and reliability of crop production forecasts. (Photo: United Nations/ Facebook)
The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) said the exercise is focusing on the possibility that farmers, through cellular phones, could improve the speed and reliability of crop production forecasts. (Photo: United Nations/ Facebook)

DAVAO CITY— An international organization is currently working with the Philippine Statistics Authority (PSA) to test crowdsourcing using cellular phones to enhance real-time crop forecasting in the country.

The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) said the exercise is focusing on the possibility that farmers, through cellular phones, could improve the speed and reliability of crop production forecasts.

“The project is assessing the potential of SMS-based crowdsourcing technologies to strengthen agricultural market information systems,” FAO representative in the Philippines Jose Luis Fernandez said in a press statement Sunday.

He added that timely crop forecasts are vital in addressing food price volatility, which has strong implications for the economy and is very closely tied to issues such as hunger and poverty.

Crowdsourcing, he said, is a method of gathering information or resources from a crowd of people through the use of technological platforms, offers vast opportunities to improve the flow of information but has been largely untapped by the agriculture sector.

“As an agricultural country where mobile technologies have deeply penetrated even the most remote areas, FAO sees the Philippines as an ideal location to test how effectively farm-level, real-time information could be collected through SMS or text messaging,” he added.

The information would then aid the preparation of crop production forecasts that can serve as a basis for planning and policymaking, he said.

FAO also reported that around 300 rice farmers in Pampanga are currently part of a control group that is sending text messages containing real-time information on standing crops, production area and volume, and other growing conditions such as irrigation.

PSA serves as consolidator and processor of gathered data using a computerized Crowdsourcing Data Collection and Quality Control System (CrowdSS) that automatically computes the quarterly rice forecast, FAO added.

In the same statement, PSA said that the study is going well while participating farmers are equally enthusiastic in this new method of data gathering.

“The potential of this project is very promising as it gives a glimpse of how modern statistics can facilitate the exchange of reliable, relevant and accurate information with anyone through every means possible,” said Vallesteros, Supervising Statistical Specialist of PSA.

Vallesteros added that the testing phase for palay [paddy rice] production is expected to conclude in June 2017, and will provide adequate information on the feasibility and cost-benefit ratio of using crowdsourcing in agriculture.

FAO and PSA are hoping to find the system to work and prove to be the solution to increase access to adequate information that can help avoid breakdowns in the food value chain.

“The result of this exercise will not only help the Philippines but also other countries that are seeking to find new ways of enhancing their forecasting processes,” FAO’s Fernández added.

The ongoing project is part of a larger multi-country FAO program funded by the Bill and Malinda Gates Foundation entitled “Strengthening Agricultural Market Information Systems globally and in selected countries using innovative methods and digital technology.”