New rice info system makes interventions more efficient

The adoption of a newly developed rice-monitoring system would now enable the government to craft sound policies and programs for the country’s rice sector, according to an International Rice Research Institute (IRRI) expert.

The IRRI turned over to the Department of Agriculture (DA) and the Philippine Rice Research Institute (PhilRice) the operation and maintenance of the Philippine Rice Information System (Prism) on March 29.

“This technology is really for the [first-hand] use by the Department of Agriculture and PhilRice. It is very useful for assessing the total crop of rice, very useful in assessing the real-time status of the regions, and very useful for budgeting and for forecasting,” IRRI Deputy Director General for Communications and Partnership Dr. V. Bruce Tolentino said. “It will make the work of the department much more accurate and more efficient.”

Prism is an online database-system initiative between the DA and the IRRI to support the DA national rice program by providing accurate and real-time monitoring data on the country’s rice production, according to the IRRI.

Prism aims to strengthen the capacity of the DA to make sound decisions in achieving food security by delivering actionable information on rice crop seasonality, area yield and yield-reducing factors using data collected from satellites, crop models, smartphone-based surveys, statistics and maps, the agency added.

“In Prism,  we can get [data in relative real time every 10 days, because we have the satellite images. We just have to assess the images, and we do not have to go to the field to the survey-based,” Tolentino said, comparing the differences between the data-gathering methods of Prism and the Philippine Statistics Authority (PSA) in coming up with palay production-related reports.

“Based on the images alone, we have preliminary assessment of the crop already, because we know when the crop was planted, so we can have an estimate on when the harvest will be, and that would mean we can forecast the crop production,”  Tolentino added.

The IRRI said the database of Prism relies on data gathered via remote sensing, crop models, in-field crop surveys, farmer interviews, weather data, official statistics and other fieldwork. Some of the data provided by Prism include the total area planted with palay, the estimated production per hectare, the health status of the crops and external factors that would affect production, such as incoming typhoons or abnormalities in weather patterns, according to the IRRI.

“This means that due to the abundance of information provided by Prism to the government and policy-makers, they could make decision on total harvest [in a given period], as well as decisions on trade, whether it will [be for] export or import. This is now real-time information that is
available to the department for decision-making,”  Tolentino said.

Agriculture Undersecretary for Operations Ariel T. Cayanan said Prism would serve as the go-to database of the DA for its planning and monitoring of the development of the country’s rice production.

“This is something we don’t want our stakeholders to miss—to take advantage of the technology we have. For example, there’s an incoming typhoon, through this, we could see the path of typhoon, and we would learn immediately the potential damages that it could cause,” Cayanan said. “So, now, if the crops that are going to be affected by typhoon are mature enough for harvest, then we can deploy some postharvest facilities to save them.”

Cayanan also said Prism would not replace the role of the PSA as the government’s primary source for palay data, but instead would serve as a complementary to it.

“The message was very clear. It was highly noted that the PSA, the DILG [Department of the Interior and Local Government] and other major components [of rice sector] already agreed that they will coordinate—not to compete or contrast, which would be more appropriate—but to coordinate to come up with data and information needed by the farmers,” Cayanan said.

He disclosed the budget for the creation of Prism is around P25 million to P35 million. Cayanan estimated that it would be the same amount of funding needed to sustain and further more improve Prism.

“Until next year it will be having a budget coming from PhilRice. But as it progresses, we will have to find source of sufficient budget for Prism, which could come from the GAA [General Appropriations Act],” Cayanan said.

Dr. Eduardo Jimmy Quilang, Prism project leader and PhilRice deputy executive director for research, said it took them at least four years to develop Prism from 2013 to 2017.

Quilang said Prism would also release monthly and quarterly reports on the country’s rice production. “Prism has an 85-percent accuracy assessment of the products we produce, like the rice map. We have field implementors who do ground validation,” Quilang said.

“For example, if a certain area is indicated as a rice farm in the Prism, the personnel would go there. If they see that rice is not really planted in that specific area, then they would put a red mark on it in the Prism data base. So, that’s how we measure our accuracy,” Quilang added.

Earlier, Agriculture Secretary Emmanuel F. Piñol said his department is having difficulties crafting programs for the country’s cash crops due to the lack of “reliable and accurate” agricultural data and statistics. “I believe we cannot do sound planning if the data that we use and the statistics we rely on are not accurate.”

Piñol said he has ordered the nationwide validation of all agricultural data, adding that the current and available agricultural data and statistics in the country are “inaccurate and outdated”.  “In fact, we’re currently designing a program wherein we will really go down to the village level, and we are going to use drone technology for the data collection.”



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