By 2050 the demand for water will increase by 50% globally. Rice farmers will compete with growing demand from manufacturing, electricity, and domestic use for this natural resource. Meanwhile, land degradation, pollution, and urban encroachment is constantly diminishing the amount of land suitable for farming.
IRRI is helping rice farmers improve the productivity of their farms so they can grow more on the same amount of land using less resources and with a smaller environmental footprint.
The International Rice Research Institute (IRRI), in partnership with the Assessment Institute for Agricultural Technology (AIAT) North Sumatra, conducted trainings for agricultural extension workers (AEWs) on delivering advisories to rice farmers through the Weather-rice-nutrient integrated decision support system (WeRise).
Agricultural extension services play a fundamental role in strengthening farmers’ capacities to maintain good agricultural practices. However, the COVID-19 pandemic has greatly limited extension services that are critical to ensure quick adoption of improved practices that lead to higher productivity. AEWs from Deli Serdang reported that the number of farmers during their regular meetings had to be reduced so they can implement physical distancing as part of health protocols during the pandemic.
The disruption of agricultural extension services comes at a time when Indonesia’s rice production decreased during the first half of 2020 according to World Food Program estimates. This can be attributed to the prolonged drought in 2019 that delayed planting and consequently harvesting in 2020. There were also floods that damaged the crops (Rahman, 2020).
WeRise can help fill the gap between AEWs and farmers while face-to-face training or meetings are limited under the new normal.
WeRise is an Information and Communications Technologies for Development (ICT4D) tool developed by the IRRI-Japan Collaborative Research Project (IJCRP) to help rice farmers in rainfed areas plan for upcoming season amidst weather uncertainties. It integrates seasonal climate predictions with a crop growth model to provide advisories on the best time to plant, suitable varieties to use, and fertilizer application schedule. WeRise advisories are accessible through its website and can generate information three months before the start of a planting season. This gives farmers sufficient time to prepare resources and schedule their activities based on the advisories.
During the training, Keiichi Hayashi, former IRRI scientist seconded from the Japan International Research Center for Agricultural Sciences (JIRCAS) and IJCRP lead from 2010-2018, gave an overview of WeRise development.
“While the target users of WeRise are AEWs, it can be accessed by farmers themselves especially during the COVID-19 crisis when face-to-face meetings are challenging,” said Dr. Hayashi who is currently an IJCRP collaborating scientist.
A total of 30 AEWs from AIAT North Sumatra and Deli Serdang extension agency were trained in registering a WeRise account, generating and translating WeRise advisories, and developing plans to communicate the advisories to farmers. Majority of the participants found WeRise both easy to use and useful for their work. Most of them also agreed that it would be easy to explain the advisories to farmers.
“Indonesia would like to revive extension activities in sub-district, district, and provincial levels using ICT4D-enabled extension services,” said Dr. Hasil Sembiring, IRRI representative to Indonesia and a member of the advisory panel of Indonesia’s Directorate General of Food Crops. “I encourage you to use WeRise."
The trainings were held on 24-25 and 27-28 August 2020 at the AIAT North Sumatra with support from the IJCRP on Climate Change Adaptation through Development of a Decision-Support Tool to Guide Rainfed Rice Production and funding by Japan’s Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry, and Fisheries.
Resource persons from the IRRI Headquarters, IRRI-Indonesia, JIRCAS and the Philippine Central Luzon State University facilitated the trainings virtually.