Since 2011, we’ve been trying to figure out how the recent influx of handheld gadgets and tools can help farmers improve their productivity and increase their incomes. And why not? Connectivity is getting easier, although still a challenge in many areas of the country; mobile phones and tabs are getting cheaper and more portable; and you can do – and know almost anything as long as it runs on apps. These qualities - connectivity, affordability and portability, are opportunities that we want to make the most of so we can provide the farmer with the most necessary tool to help him/her run his/her farm: information.
Fast forward seven years: we were finally able to find a programmer who shares the same idealism that we have, and more importantly, who can do all that we envision at a minimal cost.
We started working on the mapping of all certificates of land ownership awards (CLOAs) of our partner-farmers in Batangas. We uncovered a number of issues when we did this: the coordinates in the CLOA do not often match with the exact location of the farm, individual farm boundaries overlap, and perhaps the most ridiculous – the coordinates are situated at the open sea. We uncovered a lot of problems, but at the same time, the mapping exercise also helped us identify what kind of challenges we are really confronting.
We devoted a lot of time last year in finalizing our strategic plan. We tried to reflect on what has been achieved, and considering the limitations that are not in our power to address, we tried to look for more innovative, out of the box ideas. When one of the Board of Trustees asked us how much did we really contribute to the improvement of living conditions of the communities we are supporting, we looked at our spreadsheets containing computation of hectarage and number of people trained, and realized that we did not have the answer.
At the same time, we were aware of our staffing limitations. Our field staff can barely cover the three provinces at a very limited period - and we needed to implement our project as well.
Then a lightbulb moment.
We went back to the drawing board and looked at the maps, called our programmer and asked him if he can devise an app that can monitor baseline living conditions, essentially summarize everything for us so we don’t have to manually configure our spreadsheets, connect these with the existing GIS map, and eventually map out farm practices, input use and disaster risk reduction components. All of which can be done with intermittent internet access. He said he’ll try.
It took him a number of weeks, but before the end of the year, we were able to pre-test the app with some of our paralegal volunteers. Their inputs have helped the programmer a great deal in improving the app’s responsiveness. This January, the app was successfully rolled out in our partner-communities. It is now installed in mobile devices such as tabs and mobile phones and are being used by our farmer volunteer-enumerators, after a short field demonstration. We still need to mobilize more funds for the Phase 2 of the app, which is the integration of the profiling system, and traditional community mapping exercises to situate local boundaries, common service facilities, water sources, farming practices, and even disaster prone areas, but we are confident that we can get there eventually.
At this point, we are still in the process of creating a value network that has not been explored before – at least within our project areas. But we are optimistic that this would be innovative enough to disrupt the sluggish systems that have always hampered farmers’ access to knowledge and information that are necessary so s/he can make better decisions for his/her land.
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