In the sustainable development and agriculture community, there is a large group of people advocating the role of the internet in increasing access to learning and education resources. However, the number of people actually developing relevant and educationally sound content is far less. The International Rice Research Institute (IRRI) has set out to correct this problem by introducing the internet-based learning archives of ‘RiceDoctor’ and ‘TropRice’. These are increasing the ability of farmers to grow healthy crops and to deal effectively with pests and disease in their cultivation of rice.
The Future of Rice Production
According to an international research team involving scientists from the Consultative Group on International Agricultural Research (CGIAR), rice harvests are more susceptible to damage by global warming than was first thought. Those using crop simulation models did not know about damage at night, the hours worst affected by global warming. Field studies conducted at IRRI have confirmed predictions from theoretical studies that global warming will make rice crops less productive. Combining a quarter of a century of climate data collected at IRRI with yield trends in adjacent fields over the past dozen years, researchers discovered that simulation models underestimated the problem by half because they overlooked the effect of high minimum night-time temperatures.
In the studies, yields fell by 10 per cent for every 1ºC increase in mean night-time temperature. Because the increase in night temperature was three times greater than the increase in daytime temperature, rice yields declined by 15 per cent for every 1ºC increase in daily mean temperature. That is double the 7 per cent decline that emerged from the theoretical models.
The Role of IRRI
To help cultivators who are affected by these drops in productivity, IRRI in the Philippines is dedicated to research, partnership, capacity building, and policy support. All too often, new technologies are successfully developed and then fail in reaching those who need them most – the farmers – because of inadequate, underdeveloped or poorly motivated extension services. To help solve this problem, IRRI works to ensure that Asian rice farmers benefit from technologies arising through research. The aims are to:
- Strengthen interdisciplinary research;
- Enhance linkages between research and extension;
- Facilitate rice farmers’ uptake of technological innovations;
- Enable environmentally sound rice production to expand to feed growing populations.
One way of achieving these aims is through the IRRI’s programme of e-learning. Given the explosive growth of internet accessibility and its decreasing cost, it is anticipated that most National Agricultural Research and Extension Services (NARES) and their partners will have some degree of internet connectivity within the next two to three years. To meet the increased demand for internet-based learning, while maintaining effectiveness and cost savings, IRRI has established ways to exploit the capacity of the internet to deliver learning resources and knowledge.
The IRRI Knowledge Bank is the product of this effort and delivers learning resources in three formats: reference materials, decision support tools, and e-Learning. All materials contained within the on-line knowledge bank also available on CD-ROM or in print format. The Rice Knowledge Bank is one of the world’s first digital extension services for those (such as NGOs) who provide information and support to farmers. It is also the first comprehensive, digital rice-production library containing an ever-increasing wealth of information on rice production and training methods. The knowledge bank offers reference material on subject areas such as drought, pest management, growth and morphology, nutrient management, hybrid rice breeding, etc.
It provides this service using a breakthrough format that sets a new standard for knowledge and information access within the agricultural development community. Taking the very latest and best ideas from the private sector’s work in this area, the Rice Knowledge Bank is providing government extension officers, NGOs and others with unprecedented access to information about rice and related knowledge. An integral role is played within this initiative by the sections of the Rice Knowledge Bank known as RiceDoctor and TropRice.
RiceDoctor is a field diagnostic tool for identifying factors that limit rice crop growth in the tropics. It diagnoses and describes processes, symptoms, and crop factors using a series of questions and statements in a decision-tree format. This format is used in the ‘plant symptoms’, ‘crop symptoms’ and ‘seed and grain symptoms’ sections.
The RiceDoctor also provides information sheets on deficiencies and toxicities, diseases, field soil problems and pests. These sheets provide a well-laid-out factual representation of the symptoms of the problem, ways of confirming the problem, why and where it occurs, mechanisms of damage, when damage is important, the economic importance of the problem, and ways to manage the problem.
Providing information in this way enables rice cultivators to explore their problems and to find adequate solutions. This helps farmers to establish the optimum mechanism of controlling damage to their crops, so that they can gain a maximum yield year after year.
TropRice is a decision support tool to help farmers make more informed practical decisions related to tropical rice production. It was developed in recognition of the fact that many farmers do not have access to information on how to grow their rice. TropRice contains a collection of best practice guidelines, designed to provide practical field level guides for rice crop management.
Best practice guidelines
TropRice provides best practice guidelines for farmers on issues such as:
- Land management timetables for varying conditions and types of crop;
- Principles of land preparation and land levelling;
- IRRI rice varieties;
- Crop establishment;
- Water and nutrient management;
- Weed and insect management and integrated control;
- Disease management;
- Safe applications;
- Technology changes.
However, TropRice is not a single system for the world. While some information is generic, other information is site- or region-specific. TropRice is meant to be a template to be modified for different environments. The present system is aimed at irrigated rice in an environment similar to Los Baños, the Philippines. As improved systems on component technologies become available, they will replace or be linked to the system. Collaborators need to modify this system for their particular environments.
Reaping the Rewards
By using the e-learning facilities provided by the IRRI, farmers in the Philippines have discovered new, effective and cost-saving ways of cultivating their crops. Before gaining access to the advice provided by the RiceDoctor and TropRice, farmers would cultivate in line with the Philippines Department for Agriculture (DA) practice guidelines and calendar. This was dubbed ‘Monday-Monday’ because farmers had to spray their rice crops with a variety of pesticides on a weekly basis. The pesticides used would cost about P2,400 (US$42.88).
Rice farmer Sesinando Masano has benefited in two ways from consulting the RiceDoctor. By reducing the frequency of spraying to only once every thirty days, he has reduced his use of pesticides from over 5 litres to less than 1 litre. This has not only considerably saved on costs, but has also reduced crop losses due to pests to less than 2 per cent. By following the RiceDoctor guidelines, rather than simply spraying with pesticides, Sesinando can manage the pests on his crop more effectively. This has saved him money and increased his yield.
The Scope of e-Learning
The importance of these e-learning initiatives lies in their ability to disseminate information far and wide. The IRRI Knowledge Bank has a number of country-specific websites and offices, including Bangladesh, Cambodia, China, India, Vietnam, Sri Lanka, Pakistan, Nepal, Thailand, Indonesia, Laos, Myanmar, and the Philippines. With access to the internet booming in developing nations, more and more farmers are gaining fast and accurate information on better ways to manage their crops.
ITDG would like to thank the Philippines Rice Research Institute for providing information and helping in this case study.
The case study draws on articles written by the Philippine Rice Research Institute.
Business in Asia: The Philippines www.business-in-asia.com/philippines.html
International Rice Research Institute (IRRI) www.irri.org
IRRI Library ricelib.irri.cgiar.org
PhilRice: Philippine Rice Research Institute www.philrice.gov.ph
Rice On-Line www.riceonline.com
Donor and Supporting Organisations
Department for International Development (DFID) www.dfid.gov.uk
ITDG Technical Briefs answers.practicalaction.org