[Executive Edge] Empowering the Filipino farmer via texting

EMPOWERING. Spectres Solutions sees that short message service (SMS) could empower Filipino farmers. All photos from Spectre Solutions

EMPOWERING. Spectres Solutions sees that short message service (SMS) could empower Filipino farmers.

All photos from Spectre Solutions

Texting is often viewed as an activity to pass the time away with friends and family.

But TJ Resabal, the founder and CEO of cloud-based solutions provider Spectres Solutions, saw it another way: he saw that short messaging service (SMS) could empower Filipino farmers.

How? Resabal and the Spectres Solutions team built the product known as Sagip Buhay at Saka, which sends out weather information to farmers in remote provinces via text message.

Before Sagip was deployed, a farmer had to walk for two hours to reach the closest local government unit to check the weather updates,” Resabal said. Oftentimes, the data was outdated as well.

They had to resort to such extraordinary measures due to the lack of available Internet in their immediate vicinity. Luckily, the global system for mobile communication (GSM) reached even the most remote areas in the Philippines, making it possible to send weather information via SMS to farmers there.

Resabal said that the old method had the farmers wasting an average of 4 hours daily just commuting, and kept them away from what they do best: farming.

Resabal added that it gives farmers an idea of what to plant at which temperature, as well as helps them with their sun drying and harvest timing. It also prevents them from losing what they put so much effort in to grow.

“Crop loss caused by inclement weather is common in the Philippines and being updated by the weather information will prevent this from happening,” he said.

IMPROVEMENT. Spectres Solutions overcome the challenges, ultimately benefiting farmers under the Sagip Buhay at Saka program.

IMPROVEMENT. Spectres Solutions overcome the challenges, ultimately benefiting farmers under the Sagip Buhay at Saka program.

Helping the Filipino farmer

Resabal said the Spectres Solutions team monetizes off Sagip from a monthly subscription fee of P2,500 ($53.26), plus P0.50 per SMS sent. While they currently have 20 local government unit (LGU) subscribers across the Philippines (representing more than 100,000 farmers), getting them was not easy.

“LGUs take more than a quarter of processing and approving of budgets which is very challenging,” Resabal said.

Even collecting the subscription fee can be difficult, as most LGUs did not have a credit card. Resabal and his team could also not collect the subscription fee in person since their clients were scattered across the country, in some of the most remote areas of the Philippines.

“We overcame this problem by offering them an over-the-counter payment method which also allows us to track from who or where the payment is coming from,” Resabal said.

These challenges ultimately seem minor when you look at how much Sagip stands to benefit the average Filipino farmer. It begins with their quality of life.

“Let’s start with their legs  they don’t have to walk a lot anymore,” Resabal said. “They have better use of their time now. Farm management, yield, and harvest have improved!”

To illustrate this improvement, Resabal told the story of Antonio Estidola, a farmer from Irosin, Sorsogon.

When the LGU in Sorsogon subscribed to Sagip, Estidola was able to use the weather information via SMS to prevent crop loss and increase his yield from 27 sacks of rice to 57.

Eventually, he was able to pay off his third of a hectare of farmland mortgage and Antonio now owns 3.5 hectares of farmland that yields 450 sacks of rice,” Resabal shared.

The future of Spectres Solutions

Resabal’s vision is for Spectres Solutions to become the leading cloud computing solutions provider.

To this end, they are developing another product, Sagip Tahanan, that sends important messages via SMS during critical emergencies. For example, an LGU could direct its residents to a particular evacuation center during a flash flood.

Sagip Tahanan also consolidates information about the locals who have checked into an evacuation center.

“Instead of a person dedicated to manually count and list the names of people in an evacuation center, evacuees can check in themselves via SMS and Sagip Tahanan consolidates important information such as the evacuees’ name, age and gender,” Resabal said.

This information would help determine what kind of resources the evacuation center needs as well as how much.

“Let’s say, we consolidated that there are at least 5 babies between the ages of 1-2 years old in the evacuation center, so they need milk and other baby-related supplies that will be good for 7 days,” he said. He added that this information would be publicly listed on the Sagip Tahanan website and thus allow the evacuation center staff to focus on relief distribution and rescue coordination. – Rappler.com