Digitalization is more than digital solutions for agriculture.

Digitalization for agriculture (D4Ag) is more than digitization for agriculture. It is more than digital solutions for agriculture. Dr. Benjamin Kwasi Addom, digital agriculture strategist at the Wageningen University and Research, The Netherlands talked on “the concept of digitalization and smallholder agriculture” at a virtual workshop on digital agriculture for women entrepreneurs. Organized by the Asian Productivity Organization, in cooperation with the National Productivity Council of India, participants from the Philippines, Bangladesh, Cambodia, Fiji, India, Indonesia, Iran, Pakistan, Sri Lanka and Vietnam joined this three-day workshop from Nov. 4 to 6, 2020.

The list of what one could digitalize (value chains, leading to digital value chains, etc.) is long. D4Ag (D4ag.com), as Dr. Addom explains, is “the use of digital technologies, innovations and data to transform business models and practices across the agricultural value chain; and address bottlenecks in productivity, post-harvest handling, market access, finance and supply chain management so as to achieve greater income for smallholder farmers, improve food and nutrition security, build climate resilience and expand inclusion of youth and women.”

The concept of digitalization for agriculture takes advantage of the process of digitization that facilitates the transition from analog-to-digital and crucial for big data and analytics. Four components of D4Ag cover digital agriculture innovations (digital solution use cases and digital technologies), big data and analytics (quality content and digital identity), business development services (financing and investment) and lastly, an enabling environment (infrastructure, policies, knowledge, literacy and business ecosystem).

Most of the farmers in my community are into vegetable farming like carrots, lettuce, cabbage or chayote since these are cash crops. Economic demand for Arabica coffee places highland farmers like myself at a great advantage — the opportunity, however, is somewhat negated in favor of vegetable farming, which requires higher costs and intensity of material inputs. I looked into our farming community in Benguet on the possibility of digitalizing agriculture. Emerging technologies in the food supply chains are Internet of Things such as drones and robotics, artificial intelligence (AI) and blockchain. I have written about blockchain and coffee (July 19, 2019). Blockchain coffee could show information about the coffee origins, where it was grown and what the roaster or producer is doing to support farmers in those locations.

A continuing problem with our vegetable farmers is overproduction of vegetables that just goes to waste when it is not sold. Why does excess fresh produce go to waste when it could be processed? Farmers could be linked to food processors. Digital technology could help address food waste and support healthier diets, achieving sustainability. Small farmers could benefit from the digitalization of agriculture connecting them to markets; information and services through blockchain platforms could resolve trust and traceability challenges. Digitization of market demand needs to be gathered before production even starts, so it could be shared to vegetable growers. Too Good To Go (Toogoodtogo.org) provides an app matching unconsumed supply with unmet demand using alerts to subscribers. Another digital solution that we could adapt in our country is WeFarm, the world’s largest knowledge sharing network and marketplace for small-scale farmers without an internet connection.

WeFarm provides an SMS-based questions and answer service with 280,000 thousand contributors and 1.5 million messages sent per month. Connecting poor farmers through new technologies empowers them to improve their livelihoods, while also providing for a functioning business model.

Reducing food waste across the supply chain is just one of the many problems facing farmers, but it requires policies and regulation from both the national and local government. Policy focus as recommended by think tank CEPS (Ceps.eu) must include:

– Ensuring adequate connectivity

– Promoting entrepreneurship, building capacity and facilitating technology transfer

– Attributing responsibility for negative externalities throughout the value chain

– Providing incentives to shorten the supply chain

– Public policies to enable reallocation of excesses and reduction of food loss and waste

– An ethical and policy framework for AI and data management in B2C

– Raising the skills and awareness of farmers and consumers.

Many more digital solutions are available for farmers, but digital agriculture takes a wholistic approach that involves the four components of D4Ag.

First published at “Digitalization solutions for agricultureSunday Business & IT on November 15, 2020.

How to plant Arabica coffee

The first question that hit my mind in January 2018 was how do I plant coffee? My husband and I met up with Professor Val Macanes on March . Macanes gave useful tips such as that the “Base of fertilization is very important. At least 5 kilos of chicken manure per hole (1,200 per hectare). Digging should be half a meter by half a meter.” He even gave us a production guidebook, but I wanted more context on the steps.

What helped me is this “Production Guide for Arabica Coffee” from Bote Central. You can download it here.  I liked that it had a lot of illustrations, which gave me a head start. The guide also helped me teach the coffee farmers by showing the illustrations. It would be on July 2018 when I would get a formal training from the Benguet State University (BSU). The training workshop was called “Pre-production management, Quality Enhancement of Coffee Product from Seed to Cup.”

Production-Guide-for-Arabica-Coffee-by-Bote-Central-Inc-Maker-of-Coffee-Alamid-1

Let me show you what we did. On the slopes of the family ancestral land , lies a dense, oak-dominated cloud forest (or kalasan) together with the Benguet Pine trees.

Clearing. the land

We had to clear the land first so we could plant in between the trees.

The property before the clearing, JJanuary 2018

After clearing the land of bushes. the land is still so thick with trees and bushes. We continue to cut the branches as we planted coffee.

The land is now cleared, March 2018

For sloping areas, one can contour the layout by using an A-frame and develop spot terraces to minimize labour cost. The goal is to plant in a partially shaded area with trees (agroforestry system)

Contour the layout

From the Benguet State University training workshop
With Farmer Edmon: Checking the distance between holes. Our original layout was 3 meters x 3 meters.

Preparation of planting holes

In 2018, digging of holes was 3 meters x 3 meters apart but in 2019, we changed it to 2 meters x 2 meters. A Coffee Science lecture series from Dr. Manuel Diaz on January 2019, made us change our layout for the succeeding planting. The image below shows the triangular layout for slopes and a square layout for a flat land.

Image via Bote Central “Production Guide for Arabica Coffee”
No. of seedlings needed for 1 hectare
at a planting distance of 2m x 2m.
10,000 sqm/4 sqm (2m x2m) =2,500 seedlings

Dr. Manuel Diaz said that 3 x3 meter planting was done in the old days. Today, the best efficiency is 2500 to 4500 trees per hectare depending on the varietal and the type of land. The optimal density for bourbon is 2500 per hectare. Look at the chart below.

From the slide presentation of Dr. Manuel Diaz

Since our land falls under agro-forestry, the density of trees per hectare is 1,000 to 2,000 trees.


Density per hectare (based on Dr Manuel Diaz). Optimal zone is
3 x 1.5 meters
2 x 2 meters
2 x 1.5 meters or 1 x 3,
 1.5  x1.5 meters  okay too
Checking the hole dimensions

The recommended size of hole for planting is 50 cm wide x 50 cm deep. When digging the holes, separate top soil from the sub-soil. Return the top soil to the hole first. Then mix 5 kilograms chicken manure with the subsoil. Use this to cover the seedlings up to the root collar. We let the manure dry first before planting the seedlings.

Transplanting seedlings into the field

The key to successful planting is the ability of the root system to quickly take up water and nutrients. We carefully removed the seedling from the plastic potting material so as not to destroy the roots. Place the seedling upright in the hole. Do not remove the earth from the rootball. Plant the seedling as deep as the root collar. It is where the roots and the stem came together. Then we put back topsoil first and then the subsoil next. Fill the hole with soil until it is even with the ground level.

Image via Bote Central “Production Guide for Arabica Coffee”

I could not take a photo of the planting because I was not at the farm. During the training at the Benguet State University, I was able to plant one seedling.

The shovel is so heavy but I managed to plant one seedling, Taken in BSU campus July 2018

The Bureau of Plant Industry in La Trinidad, Benguet provided us with 1,200 seedlings. In 2019, we planted 2820 more, for a total of 3,820 coffee plants. It will only be in late 2019 that we attempted to sow seeds.

A newly planted coffee seedling taken on June 2018, one month after planting

Weeding and Mulching

Professor Macanes and the Production guide recommends to weed regularly to ensure plant survival. Weeding eliminates plant nutrient competition and alternate host of pests and diseases. Brush weeding is recommended for newly planted seedlings up to tree development •Depending on the mulch material used, the depth of mulch should be between two to three inches. Dead or dry weeds can also be used as mulch. Mulching lessens growth of weeds, decreases soil erosion, improves soil structure as well as organic matter content of the soil, and improves the water absorption and water holding capacity of soils.

On June 2018, this is how the first planting of 1,200 coffee seedlings looked like. You could barely see the seedlings. They are marked by wooden sticks.

Photo taken June 2018.

Today, some of the coffee plants are taller than me, depending on the varietal.

Photo taken on February 2020

So that is how we planted our coffee seedling in 2018 and 2019. We are learning along the way with the help of coffee stakeholders and research. Do you have other ideas to improve the planting method?

Up next is fertilization, Pest Control and Nursery Management.

Benguet Arabica: Our heritage, and its history

We started our farm in 2018 not knowing, the family’s history of planting arabica in the early 1900’s.

We just planted Typica seedlings sourced from the mountains above our farm. Before my daughters and I planned a coffee farm in January 2018, we were unaware that there were backyard coffee plants tucked away at the ancestral place of my husband’s family in Benguet.

Typica plants, Agnep Heritage Farms, July 6, 2019
Continue reading “Benguet Arabica: Our heritage, and its history”

Blockchain coffee, please

Blockchain and coffee — sounds cool. No, this is not bitcoin, the cryptocurrency as part of a coffee shop’s payment app. When I order a cup of coffee, I ask for the origin and sometimes even the farmer. As a budding coffee producer, I know how challenging it is to plant Arabica. I have not even reached the post-harvesting or roasting stage.  Picture this. From bean to cup, it takes 15 steps to get you that perfect cup of coffee. Forty Hands Coffee in Singapore took its name from the 40 hands it takes to produce a coffee from seed to cup.

I chanced upon a “Blockchain Coffee” episode on The Coffee Podcast from Spotify.  The world’s first coffee blockchain auction, was launched in partnership with Yave (Yave.io), a blockchain trading application startup, and Guatemalan Coffees. The auction offered the possibility of “faster payment for farmers, immutable traceability, and unprecedented market access breakthroughs.”

Continue reading “Blockchain coffee, please”

Meeting Professor Val Macanes at the Benguet State University

It’s almost a year when the coffee project started. The first person I contacted was Chit Juan, the only Philippine coffee advocate I know of. My question was very basic. It goes to show how little we know of coffee production. I asked:

“How does one really start planting coffee? Our land is in Benguet..around 1000 meters elevation.
Do you have other resources on how to start coffee farming? An updated article?
Any information or leads will be helpful”.

Chit’s reply led us to Professor Val Macanes of Benguet State University (BSU). Prof. Val handles the Institute for Highland Farming Systems and Agroforestry (IHFSA) in Bektey, Puguis, La Trinidad, Benguet. It is a 50 hectare campus laboratory for Arabica coffee, bamboo, an apiary, and even Philippine pigs.

Institute of Highland Farming Systems and Agroforestry
Continue reading “Meeting Professor Val Macanes at the Benguet State University”