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The rainy season keeps Indonesian food crop farmers on their toes as pests and diseases can spread before they are detected, resulting in significant damage to rice, corn, and soybean harvests – the country’s food staples.
While early detection is vital, pesticide-resistance pests and climate-driven diseases make this more challenging. In Indonesia, this problem has been compounded by the limited number of agricultural field officers.
For instance, East Java Province – one of Indonesia’s key rice and corn-producing regions – has around 3.6 million hectares of rice, corn, and soybean fields combined, according to data from the Indonesia’s State Statistics (BPS). But based on the provincial data, East Java has fewer than 600 field officers.
With such vast areas to cover, staff providing consultation to farmers may struggle to get data on different types of cultivation, such as the location, history, soil and threat characteristics. As a result, it is estimated that East Java can lose almost 30 per cent of its crop production due to the lack of pest and disease diagnosis, containment, and appropriate treatment.
Recognising the need for early detection of pests and diseases and multiple crop management, Dr Wahyudi Agustiono developed a mobile application that serves as a collaborative platform between field officers and farmers.
Named MyPaJaLe (short for ‘My Padi Jagung Kedele’ or ‘my rice, corn, and soybean’), the application allows interactive communication between farmers and field officers. For example, farmers can take pictures and send the photos to the field officers for consultation on a pest or disease attack.
“When there is a pest attack report from one location, it can also alert farmers at other locations to prepare,” said Dr Wahyudi, who graduated with a PhD in information and communication technology (ICT) and business from Deakin University in 2016, under an Australia Awards Scholarship.
“If farmers can detect the pest early, they can control and handle the attack before it causes damage. The mobile application allows fast, accurate, and interactive communications. Also, information technology helps to create precision agriculture.”
Easy to use
MyPaJaLe can not only help farmers to detect pests and diseases, but also ease labourious field work for agricultural officers.
Besides providing consultations to farmers, field staff also need to do crop tracking and log keeping manually using pen and paper with limited use of technology and no integrated tool. The administrative process of crop tracking is burdensome for field officers and is prone to errors.
“One field officer sometimes has to travel around 50 kilometres a day visiting fields. They jot down the data on paper and then input it into an Excel sheet on the computer and report it. It is complicated and tiring. Often, the data do not match,” said Dr Wahyudi.
With My PaJaLe, officers can cover larger areas and collect more data accurately.
The application also has advantages to chat applications, such as WhatsApp, which farmers and officers currently use. Discussions in the My PaJaLe platform are archived into topics based on frequently asked questions and can be accessed when needed.
“The collected topic discussions serve as a knowledge base for farmers. Our expectation is that farmers can use self-help first by first searching for tips on how to handle the pest. Then they can later send a direct message to an officer in their area,” said Dr Wahyudi.
“In a way, MyPaJaLe can serve as an educational media for farmers.”
MyPaJaLe was scaled up from MyCorn, a mobile application to help corn farmers mitigate pest and disease attacks. MyCorn was specifically designed for corn farmers in Madura, but during its launch in August 2019, the East Java Provincial Agriculture Office’s crop protection unit took an interest. The division asked Dr Wahyudi to develop a reliable and integrated platform for multiple crop protection across the province, not just Madura.
To develop MyCorn and scale up to MyPaJaLe, Dr Wahyudi received funding from the Australian Government through the Alumni Grant Scheme (AGS) that is administered by Australia Awards in Indonesia. With AGS funding, the project hired programmers, rented web hosting, made an explainer video, and launched roadshows to seven regions to promote MyPaJaLe.
Around 300-400 field officers in 38 regencies in East Java now use MyPaJaLe. However, farmers haven’t had an opportunity to use it, as the project has been unable to roll out training due to Coronavirus pandemic restrictions.
Dr Wahyudi drew the inspiration to develop MyCorn and MyPaJaLe from his experience studying in Australia in 2016.
In Australia, Dr Wahyudi learned about precision agriculture, an agricultural management system that uses technology to collect information and perform farming processes more accurately. Precision agriculture aims to increase production and maintain environmental conservation at the same time.
“Most farmers only know how to increase farm production. But failed harvests are caused by climate change, and farmers have contributed to it (climate change). For example, unchecked use of pesticide can give rise to pesticide-resistance pests,” said Dr Wahyudi.
Australian farmers used the e-farmer application provided by the government to manage pesticide use and grazing rotation for their livestock. In the application, farmers had to mark areas of farmland sprayed with pesticides to avoid overuse, and mark areas used for grazing.
“Once the area was marked, it couldn’t be used by other farmers for grazing, which allowed the vegetation there to grow again,” said Dr Wahyudi.
Pest and disease data bank
Dr Wahyudi hopes to promote wider use of the precision agriculture system with MyPaJaLe, which recently won third place at the IdenTIK 2021 competition held by Indonesia’s Communication and Informatics Ministry.
Dr Wahyudi plans to offer MyPaJaLe to other provinces that are interested in using it.
And on top of this, Dr Wahyudi and the team want to build a pest and disease resource by collecting photos of pest attacks and information on the type of pests using MyPaJaLe. The data collected will be used to construct pattern recognition for the pest and disease attacks.
“There are 500 people who use the application. Suppose one user can send two pictures of pest attacks a day, that’s 1,000 pictures per day. Imagine the number of photos collected in one year,” said Dr Wahyudi.
“If we have such resources, we can build pattern recognition and make an annual prediction of pest and disease attacks. Therefore, we can handle it at an early stage.”
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