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Mobile Phones Help Farmers Feed Their Fields

手機助農

Rice, photo from Wikipedia

Agriculture extension program in the Philippines will soon deliver fertilizer advice by text message

菲律賓的農業推廣計畫將透過手機簡訊提供農民施肥建議

 


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Researchers in the Philippines will soon use mobile phones to help farmers use just the right amount of fertilizer, maximizing their harvests, saving them money and protecting the environment.

It's a novel way to deliver important information to remote farmers who don't otherwise have access to expert advice.

For farmers looking to get the most out of their fields, fertilizer is an essential but expensive ingredient.

"Fertilizers represent about 20 percent of the input costs in rice production for farmers," says soil scientist Roland Buresh at the International Rice Research Institute. "So it's really quite important."

 

Getting it just right

Buresh has spent years researching optimal fertilizer conditions. Too little means lower yields and lower profits. Too much wastes money and causes pollution. But because every farmer's field is different, figuring out exactly how much to use is complicated.

What farmers do with rice straw after harvest -- burn it or return it to the field -- affects how much fertilizer to use.
VOA - S. Baragona

What farmers do with rice straw after harvest -- burn it or return it to the field -- affects how much fertilizer to use.

Buresh and his colleagues have come up with a set of key questions that will help farmers make that decision.

"The unique thing about some of these decision tools is really how simple they are," he says. "The questions we're asking are really readily answerable."

 

Dial 'M' for manure

And to make it even simpler, farmers will soon be able to answer those questions using their mobile phones.

When the program launches in the Philippines in a few weeks, a farmer can call a toll-free number and hear a recording in his or her language that will ask questions about the size of the field, how much rice it produced last season, sources of natural fertilizers such as rice straw or sediment from river flooding, and so on.

The farmer answers the questions using the keypad on their mobile phones. A computer does the calculations and sends a text message with the amount and type of fertilizer to apply.

Farmers apply fertilizer to an experimental rice field.

International Rice Research Institute
Farmers apply fertilizer to an experimental rice field.

 

Making money, protecting the environment

Buresh says the impact on farmers' incomes could be substantial.

"Just a back-of-the-envelope calculation shows that in the Philippines, if we in a year can be reaching just five thousand farmers and their fields can be increasing the yield by half a ton per hectare, we could be looking at profitabilities for those farmers in the range of half a million dollars."

In addition to the financial benefits, it could also help farmers reduce fertilizer pollution.

"In the Philippines and all over Asia, fertilizer has been overused and misused because no one explains to them how much they need or how to use it," says Danielle Nierenberg, a senior researcher with the environmental research organization the Worldwatch Institute.

 

Nearly everyone has one

Nierenberg says the potential for the technology goes far beyond Asia. She's been traveling across sub-Saharan Africa for the last eight months, and everywhere she goes, from remote villages in Uganda to poor farmers in Niger, nearly everyone has a mobile phone.

"Because it's easy and cheap and every farmer can basically get their own [mobile] phone or borrow someone's down the road, I think it's increasingly a way for them to gain access to things they didn't have before," she says.

In Zambia, for example, farmers without bank accounts can use their cell phones to buy seeds and fertilizers. They can also find out how much their crop is selling for in the city markets.

"They can decide whether they want to travel all the way from their village to the city," she adds, "because sometimes farmers get there and prices are too low." Their mobile phones could save them a trip.

So, while it may not be good for plowing a field or harvesting vegetables, the mobile phone is becoming one of a farmer's most valuable tools.


Language Notes

extension program 推廣計畫

maximize (v) 充分利用;最大限度地利用

maximize the harvests 讓產量最大化

novel (a) 創新的

get the most out of sth (v phr) 從 . . . 發揮最好的效用

用手機來幫助農事發展是現在菲律賓農業推廣計畫一項創新的 (novel) 嘗試。處於偏遠(remote)地方的農民沒有辦法得到專業的意見 (who don't have access to expert advice),現在只要透過手機就可以取得協助。這項計畫協助農人使用正確的肥料量,讓農地的產量成最大化,不只是節省農事的肥料費用,也保護環境 (to help farmers use just the right amount of fertilizer, maximizing their harvests, saving them money and protecting the environment)。

optimal (a) 最佳的;最佳結果

yield (n) 產量;產出;利潤

figure out 計算出;想出

肥料 (fertilizer) 是農業經濟重要的一環。新聞中提到,肥料占了約百分之二十的成本 (20 percent of the input costs)。施肥過多,對農夫來講就是成本增加、獲利減少 (lower profits),對環境則是造成肥料汙染 (fertilizer pollution),施肥過少則產量減少 (lower yields)。最佳的肥料使用狀態(optimal fertilizer conditions) 就是讓肥料成本跟田地產量最佳化,而且減少對環境的影響。而由於每個田地的情況都不一樣,計算出 (figure out)最好的肥料使用量就顯得複雜。

manure (n) (有機)肥料;糞肥;堆肥

toll-free number 免付費電話

sediment (n) 沉澱物;沉積物

肥料除了化學肥 (chemical fertilizer),還有比較天然的有機堆肥 (manure),而除了這兩種,新聞報導裡也提到,麥稈還有河流氾濫所帶來的堆積土都是天然的肥料來源 (sources of natural fertilizers such as rice straw or sediment from river flooding)。透過這項服務,農夫田地的大小,上一季的產量,各種肥料狀態等資訊,打免付費電話 (toll-free number),用手機按鍵 (keypad) 輸入資料,經電腦計算後,結果就會用手機訊息回傳建議使用的肥料種類與使用量 (A computer does the calculations and sends a text message with the amount and type of fertilizer to apply)。

substantial (a) 大量的;價值巨大的

back-of-the-envelope calculation (n phr) 粗略的計算 = rough calculation

substance當名詞常用的意思是「物質;物品」,形容詞用是「可觀的;量大的」,同義字為 considerable。只需要初略的計算一下 (a back-of-the-envelope calculation,意味用隨便的紙條、信封的背面計算一下即可),透過此服務增加產量、減少成本,對於農夫的收入會有相當可觀的影響 (the impact on farmers' incomes could be substantial)。

gain access to sth 獲得;取得使用/接觸……機會

plow (v) 犁田;耕地;翻土 =plough * plow 為美式拼法,plough為英式拼法

本來沒有辦法取得專業建議的農夫 (who don’t have access to expert advice),現在都可以得到之前所沒有的協助了(gain access to things they didn’t have before)。報導最後說,雖然手機不能用來犁田或採收蔬果 (plowing a field or harvesting vegetables),但現在卻成了農夫最有利的工具 (one of a farmer's most valuable tools)。

 
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