More rice would be nice: why Intel is helping farmers in Cambodia

More rice would be nice: why Intel is helping farmers in Cambodia

The spectacular sunset over flooded rice fields that I watched Wednesday evening here in Prey Veng Province, Cambodia, belies a somewhat less pleasant picture. All-important rice production in this poor nation seriously lags the rest of the word. The disappointing yield from Cambodian rice paddies—about 2 tons per hectare—averages barely half that of other rice-growing nations, and has helped keep the average annual income in this heavily agricultural economy to less than $1,000.

I traveled to Cambodia this week because Intel is now playing a key technology role to help boost this nation’s poor rice production—and to give struggling farmers a decent economic future. The Intel Education Service Corps team I’m following has helped organize a series of in-depth training sessions for people who work directly with farmers in their fields, such as the Cambodian equivalent of agricultural extension agents. The men and women in the photo above are “Farm Business Advisors.” And there’s a reason they’re smiling. They knew what was about to happen in a few minutes. The non-profit they work for, called IDE Cambodia, did something pretty remarkable today.

 

They handed out the first 20 of about 100 tablets to their Farm Business Advisors. There were broad smiles and sustained applause among the Farm Business Advisors when they got their tablets. But this was not just a hardware handout, which would have meant nothing. The Intel team had pre-loaded the tablets with a unique new software suite—specifically designed to help rice farmers increase their yields.

In the hands of a well-trained Farm Business Advisor or local agriculture official, the software helps them guide farmers to the right fertilizers, helps them rapidly diagnose pest issues, and helps them plant the right variety of rice based on specific local soil conditions.

Called eAgro, the rice-growing software was created by Grameen Intel Social Business—an Intel co-funded non-profit that uses technology to help people lift themselves out of poverty.

“Pest control is the single biggest issue” in hampering Cambodian rice production Shaun Waits told me andCircuit News team videographer Trang Tran. Shaun is with IDE Cambodia, and believes that by putting mobile technology in the field, in the right hands, to quickly diagnose issues, Cambodia could finally overcome its rice production challenges. Why is speed so important? Shaun explained that even a one-day delay in resolving a pest issue—such as insects or fungus—can slash a farmer’s crop yield in half, and destroy his profits. Hear more from Trang and my conversation with Shaun Waits. (Video runs about :25)

 

The software that Grameen Intel created for rice farmers requires fairly sophisticated soil testing—much more than just a litmus paper-style dip test. Here, Mr. Boy Lot, with the Prey Veng Province Department of Agriculture, does a sample soil potassium test. The Intel team—all of whom work in Intel’s Mobile and Communications Group—crowd around for this first soil test they’ve seen. From left, Adam Conderman, Say Teoh, Nafis Chowdhury with Grameen Intel, and Chankrisna Chea. (Not pictured: Thomas Gaugler and Dilek Altin, who is the IESC project team leader.)