Inspire Challenge 2017 Proposal

RiceFocus: Scaling Crop Advisory Services to Smallholders

The delivery, at scale, of locally-relevant and actionable information to smallholders, farming in diverse production landscapes remains an ongoing development agriculture challenge.

Massive digital data is currently available for the crop, climate, soil, land, water, genetics, and socioeconomics but is not well integrated and remains elusive for farmers.

Timely, relevant and site-specific in-season advice on fertilizer application, irrigation, and management of weeds, pests, and disease, and abiotic stresses can empower farmers to achieve higher yields and improved livelihood.  


An idea to solve this

This project will generate locally-relevant farmer advice that incorporates climatic variability and diversity of land management approaches within rice-dominant landscapes.

Well-tested ICT tools like the Rice Crop Manager (RCM) provide seasonal recommendations based on information provided by farmers, crop modeling, and best management practices. RCM is already a great success with releases in Bangladesh, Eastern India, and Indonesia, and is widely used in the Philippines with more than 1 million generated recommendations across several seasons for about 200,000 farmers since 2013.

We plan to capitalize on the strengths of this system by adding the capability for quantitative assessments of real-time variability and performance that would allow mid-season adjustments in recommendations to farmers through the integration of RCM information into a stand-alone application.

We will partner with 6th Grain to develop a digital platform with an innovative user interface for integrating remote sensing and optimized RCM recommendations in response to local variability and expected crop performance before and during the growing season.

Using agronomic information available through IRRI and the Rice Crop Manager, we combine dynamic crop modeling and machine learning to provide in-season crop management advice integrated on the 6th Grain platform.

Farm-specific, timely recommendations on when to fertilize and how much, what products to apply for crop protection, and alerts as to extreme weather conditions arrive via SMS message or smartphone application.

Using state of the art software and farmer engagement through extension staff, RiceFocus will enable smallholders to make use of IRRI’s research as actionable advice.

Working with IRRI, we will digitize and characterize each rice fields, ask farmers their preferred variety, determine previous years’ field history, use of inputs and other crops grown.

Farmers with digitized fields will receive pre-season advisory for farm planning, satellite remote sensing imagery for monitoring crop health and yields, weather information and agronomic recommendations based on models that can provide location and crop specific, relevant information.

Recommendations delivered to ‘RCM farmers’ in the Philippines and India will be used as an input for calculating yield estimates on RiceFocus.

Sensitivity analysis using a variation of the recommendations will drive the best guess of farmers’ practices to neighboring fields. Machine learning and data mining techniques will be used to develop algorithms linking field information and environmental variability of field productivity over time to scale location-specific recommendations to other farmers through extension.

RCM crop nutrient models will be updated to incorporate new information into its decision-making calculators to provide in-season adjustments to optimize the use of fertilizers and yield estimates to the RiceFocus platform.

Smart technologies for digitization of farm data by extension and dissemination of farmer advisory in low connectivity areas will be an added RiceFocus feature.


The predicted impact

RiceFocus will improve farmer and agribusiness outcomes:

  • Registered farmers using the RiceFocus service in each location will receive tailored advisory to their rice crop and seed variety, based on their farm unique characteristics and location;
  • Participating individual and farmer groups will be able to maximize their profit sustainably through the advisory provided by RiceFocus on the suitability of improved varieties and optimized input use;
  • Engaged farmers will also have access to 6th Grain’s FieldFocus advisory for other crops, such as maize, wheat, soybean, sunflower commonly cultivated alongside rice;
  • Extension services will be able to monitor in-season yield projections and provide timely agronomic advice to farmers in each area under their jurisdictions;
  • Agribusiness will access aggregated produce information and able to offer higher farm gate prices thanks to increased profitability due to known product quantities and improved quality in each location; and
  • Governmental and non-governmental agencies will better target financial services, like loans, subsidies, and insurance products, based on RiceFocus estimated yields in each location.

Next steps would include:

  1. collaboration between 6th Grain and IRRI to ingest pre- and in-season agronomic advice into RiceFocus for improved efficiency and enhanced capabilities;
  2. use existing and develop new algorithms for further refining agronomic recommendations, and
  3. feedback tools for tracking successes and failures at the farm level to evaluate the impact and optimize RiceFocus to better meet the needs of farmers.


Support this Proposal

The Platform for Big Data in Agriculture is all about the creating connections to build the capacity’s need to inspire real change in the agriculture sector.

The aim of the Inspire Challenge is to generate innovative ideas that will revolutionize the future of agriculture using big data tools. You can be a part of the revolution by supporting these initiatives and help secure food for the future.

Contact one of the team members below to ask how you can help realize this idea.


Sarah Beebout | Email
Sustainable Impact Platform Leader (IRRI)

Molly Brown | Email
Science Officer (6th Grain)