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Innovation in the Philippines: Coconut farmers receive valuable warnings via text

Published: Wednesday, 22 Feb 2017
Author: Ali Hussain
Department: Global Center for Food Systems Innovation

Contrary to its name, the coconut is not a nut – it's the largest stone fruit in the world. Sold in the food and beverage industry, harvested for construction purposes, used in cosmetics, and transformed into decorative objects, the coconut has many applications. While a quarter of the world's coconut production stems from the Philippines, the country's coconut farmers are the poorest around the globe. With earnings hovering at $2 a day, stagnant wages are exacerbated by low production, climate hazards, pests and unfavorable market conditions.

To improve the viability of coconut farming in the Philippines, researcher Ana Herrera leveraged a grant from the Global Center for Food Systems Innovation to implement FarmerLink, a Grameen Foundation project that connects farmers with agents who can provide insight into operating a successful coconut farm.

One component of FarmerLink is the Early Warning System, a large-scale digitally connected program that alerts farmers to potential hardships posed by natural shifts in the environment. "We envision the Early Warning System to use on-the-ground data from our field agents (on) weather information and pest and disease models to produce SMS messages sent directly to farmers to warn them against extreme weather events and potential pest and disease outbreaks," said Herrera.

By early 2017, Herrera and her team trained and deployed ten FarmerLink agents from the Philippine Coconut Authority and Franklin Baker Company of the Philippines. The training focused on the FarmerLink program, communication skills, engaging farmers effectively and the mobile tools. Content development of the coconut mobile tool kit included the design and development of mobile surveys that register farmers so they can receive SMS alerts on weather, pests and diseases, good agricultural practices and financial literacy training.

"Apart from the text messages sent directly to farmers, reports and dashboards will also be available for private and public sector partners to enable them to make decisions for quick response and pest and disease control," Herrera said.

The project is first of its kind, and aspires to benefit over 2,000 coconut farmers. Project partners include Philippine Coconut Authority, Palantir Technologies, aWhere and engageSPARK.