By Elizabeth Sweitzer, CIAT

In February 2021, the EcoProMIS project hosted two workshops with rice growers to demonstrate advances with the digital platform and to better understand grower interests and needs.

More than 120 participants joined across the workshops, held February 16th in Tolima and February 17th in Casanare. Surveys administered after the workshop showed that a wide array of participants joined, including rice growers, agricultural assistants or technical assistants, agricultural engineers as well as university students.

Providing value to growers
The workshop covered a series of topics, starting first with an introduction and summary of the EcoProMIS platform  and providing further context with a timeline of our project activities and progress to date.

The workshop aimed to demonstrate the different services on the platform and how these create value for growers. With the help of agricultural engineers and specialists at Fedearroz, we explained different prediction services that the platform aims to offer through a suite of mobile applications and web interface.

These digital services will provide information about output based on farm climate, management, and phenotyping data. These are designed to support farmers regarding their own plots of rice. We demonstrated visualization tools, which compare the user’s crop to others in the area. Finally, we demonstrated diagnostic tools for crops which use geo-referenced data to measure crop nutrition and the phenotyping stage.

We met with rice growers for workshops in February 2021

 

Closer working relationships
Fedearroz also took the opportunity to share about their own work with precision agriculture technology and drone and satellite imagery. Agronomists who were present remarked that these types of projects are very important to the rice-growing region and suggested a closer relationship with the growers and water providers (for irrigation) so that they can all access these intelligent digital platforms.

Questions were asked about how the EcoProMIS crop production forecasting works, what variables are considered, and how the platform uses images to analyze crop nutrition and phenotyping stages. Here we were grateful for the presence of technical assistants, as they were able to explain some of the nuances of the platform and its functionality to growers with whom they were familiar, while also promoting the benefits of the platform.

Listening to growers’ needs
After the presentation, we conducted a brief survey about record keeping habits and data collection preferences, as well as some demographic information in order for us to better understand the needs of growers.

The survey results gave us an improved understanding of how to develop the platform and what features would be most important for growers and technical specialists who might help growers. We understand that the most important product will be the mobile application, but also heard a request to provide a web or desktop version for those who are used to using Excel for record keeping. Having different “users” such as growers and technical specialists who could both input information about the same field was another need that became clear.

Survey results also revealed that all participants would be interested in using the application from cellphones to enter and store data. Many of them have already been using digital methods for record keeping (81% of survey respondents in Tolima and 92% in Casanare used Excel).

For our team from Agricompas, CIAT and Solidaridad, it was insightful that growers differed from technical specialists in their record keeping habits. Growers tended to record information about production, inputs used, labor costs and output; whereas technical specialists were more interested in crop nutrition, soil health, and pests and disease affecting crops.

Next Steps
We aim to hold future sessions to discuss more features of the EcoProMIS platform as they are created and continue listening to feedback from growers and technical specialists. Soon they will be able to plug and play the prototype applications.

We were encouraged that the University of Ibagué is interested in participating in these projects and contribute research and training towards co-creating an innovation ecosystem in the rice production sector. We look forward to continuing our collaboration with all of the existing and potential new EcoProMIS partners that can deliver value to the rice sector in Colombia.