By Dr. Ma. Victoria O. Espaldon, Professor, School of Environmental Science and Management, UPLB

Filipino Farmers have long been working in the field, but with the recent changes in weather patterns, and occurrences of extreme weather events, it has been hard for them to adapt. Take, for example, the extended El Niño period from 2015 to 2016, which caused a total of P4.7 billion in crop damages (Department of Agriculture). During this period, Northern Mindanao suffered the highest share of losses of P358.4 million. How can we adapt and make our agriculture sector more climate resilient?

One immediate action we can take is to provide the agriculture sector and stakeholders with up-to-date and relevant information. This is where Project SARAI (Smarter Approaches to Reinvigorate Agriculture as an Industry in the Philippines) comes in. One major output of this research program is to produce a SARAI knowledge portal (http://sarai.ph/) to serve as the one stop-shop for all SARAI-generated information.

Project SARAI is a three-year research program that aims to provide solutions and up-to-date agricultural information to the agriculture sector and its stakeholders. It is funded by the Department of Science and Technology – Philippine Council for Agriculture, Aquatic, and Natural Resources Research and Development (DOST-PCAARRD), and implemented by the University of the Philippines Los Baños (UPLB).

This knowledge portal is targeted to cater to the information needs of municipal agricultural officers (MAOs) and other stakeholders such as academic and research institutions. This setup gives the MAOs ease in bringing real-time information to the field while providing assistance to the farmers. Using the portal, MAOs can access municipal-level suitability maps for rice, corn, coconut, banana, coffee, and cacao.

These suitability maps help them decide where they can expand crop production given the suitability level of the area. The suitability levels are generated based on the following parameters: climate type, temperature, rainfall, soil, slope, and elevation.

The knowledge portal also offers the downloadable MAIZE Nutrient Expert application. The nutrient expert works like a calculator for NPK (nitrogen, phosphorous, and potassium) and rates of usage, and may help improve the profits of farmers who follow the application’s recommendations. The ideal setup is for MAOs to assist the farmers in completing the survey form of the nutrient expert, and then the farmers will be given printed copies of the results. The results provide a comparison of application rates and profits between the farmer’s current practice and the nutrient expert’s recommendations. The application can be used for both desktop computers and mobile smartphones.

Other information that the public can expect from the knowledge portal are site-specific planting dates, nutrient management, and water management advisories. The knowledge portal will also host near real-time and site-specific crop production area monitoring and forecasting. For resources and other training materials, the stakeholders can also access tutorial videos and manuals from the knowledge portal.

This appeared in Agriculture Monthly’s November 2016 issue.