by RALPH LAUREN ABAINZA
Agriculture is an important sector in the Philippines and is considered one of the key drivers of the country’s economy. According to a 2020 report from the World Bank, modernizing and transforming the country’s agriculture sector is essential for achieving sustainable and inclusive economic growth.
Different institutions across the globe are turning to artificial intelligence (AI) to revolutionize agricultural systems through smart technologies. In the Philippines, a team of researchers and engineers from the Department of Science and Technology-Advanced Science and Technology Institute (DOST-ASTI) combined the concept of Information and Communications Technology (ICT) and agriculture to create a system that will help plant growers, especially the youth, in monitoring and precisely controlling the parameters that affect their plants. “It is the project’s aim to encourage the Filipino youth in venturing into the fusion of ICT and agriculture to develop solutions that will ensure our country’s food security,” shared Supervising Science Research Specialist and Gul.ai Project lead, Jeffrey A. Aborot.
Called the Gul.ai Project, its name is a play between the Filipino word “gulay” and artificial intelligence (AI). “The word Gul.ai represents the advancement of agriculture through the application of Artificial Intelligence,” shared Aborot. Gul.ai Project is an initiative funded by the DOST-ASTI, which aims to develop the Gul.ai System. This system has both hardware appliances and software components, according to Aborot.
Empowering plant growers through AI
Through the attached cameras and ai-powered sensors, Gul.ai System will allow plant growers to monitor real-time environmental conditions affecting their plants. Aside from regular image capture to visually monitor the plants and the plant box, the installed sensors also measure different essential parameters such as the acidity of the water-nutrient mix, internal and external temperature, internal and external humidity, and amount of light.
The system will also enable plant growers to precisely define environmental parameter settings that will affect plant growth such as the color of artificial light, the type and amount of nutrient solution needed, and the frequency of applying water and nutrient solutions. “The mentioned system features will allow the end-user to grow plants in a hands-free manner once the system has been initiated,” shared Aborot.
The team deployed a laboratory-scale prototype of the Gul.ai System in the University of Rizal System (URS) Tanay Campus last November 28, 2022. The system was subjected to a real environment test where URS agricultural engineers and crop scientists and DOST system engineers were on hand to provide feedback. “This feedback will be valuable to the project team in improving the system’s design and implementation in the succeeding research and development iterations,” said Aborot.
Connecting youth and agriculture through AI
Though the system will eventually be rolled out to all interested plant growers, Aborot said that their primary target beneficiaries are students. Through the system, students can grow leafy plants in the comfort of their homes.
The project team aims to encourage Filipino youth to consider agriculture as a career path and integrate ICT in pursuing food security. “The youth is our hope for a more resilient Philippines and the fusion of agriculture with fields such as ICT hopefully will increase our chances for a more adaptive and food secure country,” Aborot shared.
The project team targets to open the system in the commercial market in 2023 once it passes all the necessary quality checks and after it is approved by their partner agriculture experts.
Aborot emphasized the significant role of the youth in developing agriculture and the country as a whole. “I personally encourage the Filipino youth to do good in their STEM subjects from primary, secondary, to tertiary level as these are the building blocks of engineering and the sciences. We need technology-oriented individuals for the improvement of our practices and methods in the agriculture sector,” he shared.