Pak Haji Muhyi has been rice farming for almost 30 years, but even with his experience he has fallen victim to unscrupulous suppliers, who misinformed him about seed varieties, costing him an entire harvest.
Pak Haji is from Indonesia’s Karawang District, which has two planting seasons annually: a long season with more rain, and a shorter season with less rain. Specific varieties of rice are needed for each, and when Pak Haji was sold “long-life” seeds for the short season, they did not mature by the end of the rains. It was a complete loss.
Mercy Corps’ Agri-Fin Mobile program is looking for ways to help smallholder farmers access accurate information through their mobile phones to protect their investments and improve their productivity.
Pak Haji bought his first mobile phone in 2011, and this year, when introduced to the concept through his agricultural extension officer, he registered for a mobile information service to support his farming.
LISA is a mobile social network platform created by Mercy Corps’ partner 8Villages that allows registered farmers to ask agriculture experts and other farmers questions through SMS messages.
LISA also “pushes” suggestions to farmers, including advice on fertilizing and protecting against disease and pests. LISA can also advise on where to find and identify correct seed varieties, which could save Pak in the future from making the same mistake.
For the 58-years-old rural farmer, who left school at sixth grade, integrating new technologies into his farming practice has its challenges. Pak Haji leaves for the fields after dawn prayers, comes home for midday prayers, then heads back to the field and works there until 5 p.m. He rarely thinks to bring his phone with him, preferring not to be disturbed and not to bring his fragile reading glasses to the fields—which he needs to read SMS messages.
Pak Haji is also used to talking in person—or on the phone—rather than sending messages, since he finds manipulating the little buttons difficult with his farming hands. But Pak Haji is getting LISA tips as saved messages he can read later and through talking with his neighbor farmers, who are also on the network.
During this initial testing of LISA, Mercy Corps is learning of the key role that “young farmers” or “observed farmers” play in introducing new technologies to rural farming communities. According to Pak Haji, although all of the farmers in his group were registered and trained on how to use the service, some farmers are just more comfortable using phones and are happy to share information.
“Observed farmers,” already set up by agricultural extension to serve as role models, are also acting as conduits of information: sharing by word of mouth the helpful LISA tips, as well as sending in questions on behalf of farmers to be answered by LISA experts.
Pak Haji has already put into practice recent LISA tips to use environmentally friendly pesticides. In the past, he and other farmers preferred strong pesticides that were killing the natural predators of the pests, as well, resulting in an even worse pest problems. With LISA recommended chemicals that target pests and diseases without killing predators, Pak and other farmers can achieve much greater crop yields.
Despite the challenges, Pak Haji loves farming, and his adult son, whose family lives with him, is following in his father’s footsteps. According to Pak Haji, “Young farmers are the future. They should be targeted for these new technologies.” Not only can they benefit greatly from having expert advice at their fingertips as they get started in their lives as farmers, but they also support the whole community’s uptake of mobile services.