April 04, 2012 (LBO) - A mobile phone ranking system is being developed to help Sri Lankan pineapple farmers identify suppliers of good quality planting material and avoid buying diseased plants that could destroy entire crops.The initiative is part of efforts to make more use of information and communication technology like mobile phones to improve livelihoods and incomes of farmers being studied by LIRNEasia, a thin tank.
It looked at how smallholders could be better integrated into agricultural value chains, reducing their transaction costs and structural barriers that limit efficiency.
Farmers face difficulties in getting good planning material, either seeds or plants, said Nilusha Kapugama, research manager at LIRNEasia, which studied agriculture supply chains from Bangladesh, India and Sri Lanka.
Farmers also lack knowledge on access to post-harvest facilities like warehousing and cold storage, she told a news conference in Bangkok where their findings were presented .
In Sri Lanka pineapple is grown through small saplings or plants obtained from existing cultivation.
"Sometimes you have diseased plants in the market for purchasing and new cultivators sometimes are unable to figure out what is bad," Kapugama said.
"So you find entire cultivations lost to disease which means loss of income for farmers. It could wipe out their entire income."
Such losses could be critical for farmers especially those who have taken loans for funding their farms.
"When growers find bad quality planting material they spend more time looking for good planting material," Kapugama said.
"In Sri Lanka farmers can spend six weeks trying to find good planting material. That's a lot of time."
The think tank is studying the setting up of a directory of suppliers of good planting material and making it available through mobile phones to growers, who now usually contact each other to find out which suppliers are good.
"Mobile phones are one of the most accessible forms of ICT for farmers," Kapugama said.
"We're trying to set up a system which can operate on mobile phones. We can't expect farmers to use complicated systems.
"We suggested a reputational ranking system. It's already in the works for pineapple farmers."
The directory provides a list of farmers who can supply good plants and other farmers who buy can then enter a ranking.
"We need an incentive for farmers to do the ranking. The incentive is finding good quality plants," said Kapugama.
"If they themselves can set up a system on good and bad planting material, their search times are cut down; the probability of spreading disease is cut down.
A simple 1 - 5 system of ranking has been suggested using open source software that anyone can customise for any other supply chain.
LIRNEasia also studied potato cultivators in Bangladesh who lack information on the availability of cold storage facilities to preserve their crop after harvesting and mango growers in India.
"Cold storage access is important as it helps farmers to avoid gluts which often result in low prices," Kapugama said.
"In Bangladesh there is only capacity for about 25-30 percent of the crop of which about 10 percent on average is not used.
"Farmers do not know how to find where storage is available while there is under-utilised storage. So there is an information gap," said Kapugama.
"We can have a system where storage owners can update information on capacity they have. Growers in the area can register for a simple SMS notice saying which cold storage facility has space which can be used.
"It can also prevent farmers queuing up for hours trying to get into cold storage facilities where space is no longer available."