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Ricefields overlooking the clear skies in Cateel town in Davao Oriental. Photo by Ian Derf Salvaña

Electronics in agriculture: Better solutions

Ricefields overlooking the clear skies in Cateel town in Davao Oriental. Photo by Ian Derf Salvaña
Ricefields overlooking the clear skies in Cateel town in Davao Oriental. Photo by Ian Derf Salvaña

“Help the farmer itself. They plant to feed you.”

The seminar entitled “Agriculture Applications in Electronics” given by Engr. Apollo Ian David last Aug. 3, 2016 in Ateneo de Davao University (AdDU) ended with this quote from President Rodrigo Duterte. The said event was attended by the members of the Society of Electronics and Communications Engineering Students (SELECOMES) at F313A during activity period.

David, who graduated from AdDU last 2012, held this seminar so that he could impart his knowledge and experiences on the subject matter with the aspiring ECEs.

He worked as an irrigation specialist for two years after becoming a licensed Electronics and Communications engineer. During this time, he was exposed to the applications of electronics in agriculture.

Better mix

Agriculture is “the science, art, or practice of cultivating the soil, producing crops, and raising livestock and in varying degrees the preparation and marketing of the resulting products,” as defined in the Merriam-Webster dictionary. Electronics, on the other hand, is “a branch of physics that deals with the emission, behavior, and effects of electrons (as in electron tubes and transistors) and with electronic devices.”

Putting these two together might seem like mixing oil and water, but in truth, making these two different worlds collide might actually create a better mix more than one can think. As Benz Elian Steven Te, the SELECOMES president, had put it, “Electronics has always been a solution provider, and agriculture is no exception to its aid.”

 Electronics in agriculture

In his seminar, David lectured on topics that covered precision agriculture, which is used for collection of information about physical and environmental attributes. This, he explained, usually uses sensors. Also, during his lecture, he emphasized on the applications of electronics in agriculture that could be applied in farming.

He also discussed the recent enhancements in agriculture, particularly in farming with electronics which uses electronic sensors, satellite imagery GPS, big Data analysis, weather stations and unmanned aerial vehicles, which we is also known as drones.

He also shared different studies and researches that involved the applications of electronics in agriculture, which included studies from the Philippines such as the 2012 study entitled “Rainfall Monitoring Using Acoustic Sensors” by E.M. Trono, M.L. Guico, N.J.C Libatique, G.L. Tangonan, D.N.B. Baluyot, T.K.R. Cordero, F.A.P. Geronimo, A.P.F. Parrenas, who were from the Department of Electronics Computer & Communications Engineering of Ateneo de Manila University (AdMU). The said study was about the design, development and field testing of acoustic sensors for rain measurements.

From this study, “the analysis features and performance of the acoustic sensors directs to the development of low-cost devices for gathering rain data, which can supplement standard rain measurement devices,” as stated from its abstract.

Agriculture in the Philippines

The Philippines, by nature, is an agricultural country. The agricultural sector contributed 10% to the total Gross Domestic Product (GDP) of the country with an average annual Gross Value Added (GVA) rate of 1.77% from 2012-2014.

As David explained, it is important to be efficient in agriculture and in its usage of resources such as water for irrigation, fertilizers, human mechanization, etc. Given that the Philippines gets a portion of its GDP in agriculture, the Filipino farmers must be able to produce crops sufficiently for us well as for export. “To attain this, agricultural mechanization and technology must be applied, which includes electronics,” he added.

David further explained that young farmers are more open to the use of machinery and new technologies, paving the way for more efficient methods of farming. This can make them more competitive because agriculture is also a business. The sad reality though is that employment is low here and that the average age of Filipino farmers is 57. This isn’t helpful in improving the country’s agriculture.

“Hopefully, we can provide the same technology for ourselves para makamura [tayo] and [para] abot-kaya ng marami. Usually ang may technology lang sa farm kasi syempre [ay] yung may kaya. Yung iba, nagre-rely pa rin sa sabi-sabi. That’s actually one thing na [dapat] i-address ng government, which is naa-address naman [pero] hindi lang abot ng lahat,” he expressed.

Future of agriculture in the Philippines

David saw that in the next few years, the country would be more technologically advanced in terms of agriculture. He suggested that irrigation and the proper usage of fertilizers should be provided before automization and data analytics.

Te also saw that since Duterte treasures Mindanao as the main source of agriculture in the country, it would be an opportunity for the Philippines to dwell more on agriculture that will help the economy grow.

“Agriculture can be our highest source of income here in the Philippines, and that might be the target of our president. As a bonus, Mindanao will flourish hopefully and the tax will return to our island here,” he said.

“Since the Philippines is full of diverse applications of agriculture, electronics can cover these diversities one by one, aiding in specifics. It is very relevant today especially since we are now experiencing climate difficulties. Since we have the resources now, it is important to act swift for the betterment of agriculture’s future,” he added.

Help for the farmers

For Nelson John Namuag, a third Year ECE student and SELECOMES member, what struck him the most was the quote by Duterte. He shared that since society is ever-changing and advancements in technology are fast-paced, more focus is put on industries that produce products such as gadgets, security systems, GPS, aeronautics and robots that have a direct impact on people.

As Namuag explained, the conventional way of farming is very much a manual work. In the Philippines, as he stressed, the farmers aren’t fairly compensated even if the Agrarian Reform is there to help them.

“With the projects presented in the seminar, it’s nice to know that there are that can make farming more systematic and easy. If electronics can advance the other industries, then why not use it for the agricultural sector too?” he shared.

Te also added that there is a proper method of farming which would include factors such us proper water content, Ultraviolet (UV) exposure, proper spacing and propagation, which is called precision agriculture.

“Now, electronics can provide assistance na maka-provide ng assistance na maka-detect, act or inform on what’s happening sa land and what should be done,” he expressed.

The main problem

Still, the main problem being faced by families whose main livelihood is agriculture is poverty. “Dahil din mas tinatangkilik na natin ang imported products, mapunta sa wala ang ibang pinaghirapan ng farmers natin.” Namuag added.

Namuag believed that while the advancements in technology can help in the labor of the farmers, this still is not the immediate solution to their problem of poverty, which is being faced by most of the farmers in the country today.

In truth, all of these new technologies and tools that can be used in agriculture, particularly in farming, can be an immense aid to those who need them in their livelihood. Still, a lot more has to be considered and factored in so that the real problem, which is poverty of the Filipino farmers, can be solved.

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