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[MANILA] Rice farming has become the latest addition to the smartphone market for information, with a free application that can provide farmers with advice on fertiliser use suitable for their particular needs.

Developed by the International Rice Research Institute (IRRI), the Nutrient Manager for Rice Application (NMRiceApp), was launched last month (24 January) in the Philippines, where it is available in English and Filipino languages.

Specific NMRiceApp versions are also being tested for Bangladeshi and Indonesian farmers.

The Android app is designed primarily for extension workers who provide farmers with site-specific recommendations on fertiliser usage, said Rowena Castillo, assistant scientist in IRRI's crop and environmental sciences division.

The NMRiceApp is an offshoot of a previous mobile phone-based service that the institute launched last year, NMRiceMobile, which is aimed at reaching the farmers themselves.

In the latter service, farmers and extension workers can dial a toll-free number to hear a voice instruction in either the local Filipino language or in English. They can then use their keypad to answer 12–15 questions about their rice crop.

After answering all the questions, the farmer receives a tailored fertiliser recommendation in a text message.

Now, with NMRiceApp, extension workers — and farmers who have smartphones — can access and process the information themselves, rather than having to wade through the automated voice command.

The app is easy to use because of pictures and images that help the farmer and extension workers to understand the questions.

The information that the farmers will receive is based on the latest research that IRRI's scientists have done on rice productivity, said Castillo.

Since its launch last month, she said, the app has had 700 downloads, about half of which originated in the Philippines.

"We are also developing an app for crop management. This will provide information on rice farming practices, irrigation, pest management and seed selection," she said.