Proactive monitoring and agricultural innovations to reduce farmers’ vulnerability to climate change

The Philippines ranks third among countries most vulnerable to climate change. This means that agricultural lands and production are also at risk from extreme weather events such as storms and droughts. Smarter Approaches to Reinvigorate Agriculture as an Industry in the Philippines (Project SARAi) is a project of the University of the Philippines with support from the Department of Science and Technology–Philippine Council for Agriculture, Aquatic and Natural Resources Research and Development that seeks to minimize the risks posed by climate change on local agriculture. Led by Dr. Maria Victoria Ortega-Espaldon of the School of Environmental Science and Management of UP Los Baños, the program has entered its second phase and continues to develop a national crop forecasting and monitoring system for nine priority crops in the country: rice, corn, banana, coconut, coffee, cacao, sugarcane, soybean and tomato.

Project SARAi is promoting agricultural innovations anchored on proactive monitoring to help farmers and other agricultural stakeholders such as agricultural technicians and officers. It is able to monitor agricultural production areas nationwide, down to farm-specific levels, using Geographic Information System and free remotely sensed data. This monitoring system can detect crop growth stages and assess agricultural damages brought about by typhoons and drought.

Because many farmers still do not know the pests and diseases they encounter in their farms, Project SARAi developed a mobile application to aid them in this respect. The farmers or their agricultural technicians only need to take photos of the pests, upload the photos to the mobile application and wait for the pests to be identified. The application also provides immediate management protocols. The monitoring system is further enhanced by the SARAi cost-efficient soil moisture meters and sensors which make it possible for farmers to monitor crop-water levels and stay proactive for nearing crop-water stress conditions.

Rice farmers in Catarman, Samar participate in a two-day field pest and disease identification workshop led by Project SARAi

Collaborative learning: Farmers tell their stories and struggles in controlling pest infestations, while expert suggests practical and immediate solutions

Agricultural innovations: Rice farmers in Catarman, Samar test SARAi mobile pest library applications

To provide the team with real-time weather data, Project SARAi installed Automatic Weather Stations near production areas. The data is translated into SMS-friendly content and sent by SMS to almost ten thousand stakeholders daily. For remote monitoring, Project SARAi used a drone with a multispectral camera to keep track of selected production areas. The drones gave more detailed information on the conditions of the farms.

Currently, the team is developing a system to analyze the images and extract information from them such as pest infestation and crop-water stress.

The project likewise created crop suitability maps for six initial priority crops — rice, corn, coconut, banana, coffee and cacao — that government and industry can use in development planning, resource allocation and investment planning.

By encouraging farmers to have daily monitoring activities in the field and providing them with agricultural information and technological innovations, Project SARAi supports efforts to help Filipino farmers adapt to climate change.