By Sahlie P. Lacson

As cited in a paper presented during the 25 th Annual Scientific Meeting of the National Academy of Science and Technology (NAST) about The Rice Problems in the Philippines: Trends, Constraints, and Policy Imperatives, written by then University of the Philippines Professor of Economics Arsenio Balisacan and Agriculture Secretary’s Technical Advisory Group Research Associate Majah-Leah Ravago, rice self-sufficiency is an objective that has been enshrined in all of the country’s government programs for the agricultural sector since the early 1960s. This means that rice, which is considered the country’s staple food, has to be locally produced at quantities sufficient to meet the rice requirement of the burgeoning population. It will answer not only the country’s ability to feed itself, more so, increase in the purchasing power of the incomes of the poor, including farmers and urban workers whose spending on rice constitutes about 22% of their total household expenditure.

One of the projects launched recently by the International Rice Research Institute (IRRI), an institution whose mission is to improve the quality of life of those who depend on the rice sector, that could help provide solution to such objective is the use of RiceStats database. Leveraging the use of cloud computing, the project intends to create a reference that could help those in the rice sector, particularly agricultural and social science researchers, academia, policymakers, donors, and investors, by using ontology to combine data into a one-stop accessible database with a displayable dashboard for rice statistics.

And what could make the data from RiceStats database feasible? For one, It will contain data from existing household surveys conducted by IRRI globally and will also include data from national bureaus and international organizations, which for the time being, does not exist for rice. Farm household survey database is a collection of farm level data sets on rice productivity, fertilizer and pesticide use, labor, inputs, prices, income, demographics, farm characteristics, and other related data on rice production in farmer’s fields. It is a rich collection of actual farm and household level data collected through personal farmer interviews, farm record keeping, and periodic monitoring of farm activities from various sites in different rice growing communities.

“RiceStats database will enable the dissemination of comprehensive rice socio-economic data through an easily accessible database interface on a wide scale,” says IRRI Representative for the Philippines Dr. Romeo Recide during launch.

Further, Recide enumerates the benefits of the project:

  1. it will present an easier way to access and visualize the most updated data given its features to create a bigger impact;
  2. it will allow centralization of real time data collected not just within IRRI, but with other organizations, such as different national organizations, that collect data for monitoring, evaluation, research, and education purposes;
  3. modern innovations like cloud based storage and computing will make positive impact in helping the rice sector in the Philippines in terms of research and education;
  4. it will equip all stakeholders in the rice industry – from policymakers, program implementers,all the way down to our farmers – with the most updated information that they need to make critical decisions;
  5. the integration of data from previous IRRI projects and those that are still in progress in this platform will create a resource that will enable our scientists and researchers to constantly keep an eye on possible solutions that can respond to regional and global challenges.

Together with IRRI, the Department of Science and Technology-Advanced Science and
Technology Institute (DOST-ASTI) and Amazon Web Services (AWS) are the cooperating organizations for the project, while Asi@Connect funded it.

“IRRI believes that the Asi@Connect project can help fulfill a number of Sustainable
Development Goals through improved access to education and research resources across the Asia-Pacific,” says IRRI Agri-Food Policy Platform Leader Dr. Jean Balia of this project initiative. Asi@Connect marks the 4 th phase of EU (European Union) funding to the Trans-Eurasia Information Network (TEIN) program which was launched as an Asia-Europe Meeting (ASEM) initiative in 2000.

DOST-ASTI Director Dr. Joel Joseph Marciano Jr. further explains, “The DOST-ASTI and IRRI have established a good working relationship in the areas of research networking, high performance computing, and cloud computing over the years. IRRI is connected to the Philippine Research Education and Government Information Network (PREGINET) managed by the DOST-ASTI.” PREGINET is the Philippines’ only National Research and Education Network that is connected to a global REN, of which Asi@Connect is the Asia-Europe connection.

“This project launch is just the beginning and we look forward to a fruitful and rewarding partnership among AWS, ASTI, and IRRI and the rest of the members of the agriculture, particularly the rice science community, all for the benefit of the most indispensable workforce in the country, our farmers,” concludes Recide.