“The threat of hunger is as real as the threat of Covid-19, ” the Department of Agriculture (DA) said a month into the Enhanced Community Quarantine (ECQ) when the limited movement of agricultural workers resulted in problems in harvesting and transporting goods, wastage of crops and loss of income — and a growing fear of shortage in city centers. Thats on top of the pre-existing challenges presented by natural disasters, changing weather patterns and various forms of pests.
“Indeed, now more than ever, our food security frontliners — farmers, fishers and other workers in the food value chain — will play a crucial part in our fight against Covid-19. That’s why it is important that we continue to empower them to ensure continued production and delivery of food to our countrymen,” Agriculture Secretary William Dar said in a statement released by the agency last April 11 through its official website.
Almost three months later, the head of the Department reiterated the importance of food security during an interview with CNN. “During this pandemic, we need to provide, and food is a must. Agriculture and food will be critical in reviving the Philippine economy. [sic]”
Consistent with its refocused priorities, the DA released a memorandum reprogramming its activities and ensuring that they align with the objective of enhancing food productivity, food supply availability, food accessibility and food price stability. And while many initiatives and mobile applications came to the aid of farmers to help them transport their goods from the provinces to city centers and markets, the data has shown that this is no longer enough. A large part of supporting them is giving them better access to the information and the products they need for greater yield in spite of their limited movement.
TIWALA, An Innovative Solution to Both Old and New Challenges
Since last year, Syngenta has been using various social media tools to promote their products, which greatly improved the growers’ yield and income. They have also formed grower communities where farmers can ask questions on issues related to their crops, and share their stories.
The growing need for more creative solutions to support farmers encouraged Syngenta to launch the TIWALA mobile application on June 5, 2020.
TIWALA is a first in the industry – being the pioneer digital platform to integrate product information, e-commerce functions, client rewards program, and an agronomy program. It is designed to support farmers by giving them quick and easy access to the information and the products they need to hurdle various challenges.
“The TIWALA app is an added service we give to the growers which they can access anytime using mobile phones,” said Brian Pastor, marketing head of Syngenta Philippines, “Aside from our quality and effective products and technologies, the app aims to help farmers identify pest and signs of diseases in their fields at an instant, and find the recommended Syngenta solution.”
TIWALA has four core features. The first is the e-commerce function, which allows retailers to select and purchase the products they need in three easy clicks — Go to the Buy landing page, select the product, and make the purchase.
The second feature is the loyalty rewards system, which allows clients to redeem their points for the reward of their choice. At the onset, they can use the points to purchase e-load from major network service providers, to buy products from multiple commercial establishments such as SM, National Bookstore, Puregold, and Jollibee, and to load up their GCash or Paymaya digital wallets.
The third major feature of Tiwala is the Pest Map, which allows users to identify the kind of crops they are growing, the kind of pests they are dealing with and the methods and products that would best address the issue.
“For the Pest Map, growers would have easy access to all relevant information about key insect/disease and weed problems in Corn, Rice, Vegetables and Mango. With just 3-easy clicks, the app will educate them on its physical appearance, a description of its symptoms and the critical timing of its incidence, as well as information and photos of its damage to the crop,” said Syngenta’s Regional Marketing Lead, Field Crops APAC, Leslie Sharp.
The Syngenta Crop Program is the fourth amazing feature of the mobile app. It offers a visual representation of pest occurrence per crop stage and provides an effective crop program recommendation from Syngenta’s trusted Technical Agronomy Team. The recommendation offers Syngenta product solutions (seeds and crop protection) with corresponding application rates and optimum window of application. This feature also provides a tab for a detailed list and description of all Syngenta products per specific crop.
These value-added features were deliberately developed to help growers gain easy access to basic pest and agronomy questions. In a market of almost a million growers, having this app will enable them to quickly address their crop production concerns. These app features were created with the objective of making sure that they are fully equipped to understand and solve the problem.
“We’ve seen how this pandemic accelerated the use of digital across segments of the society. I would say that majority of our targeted customers would find the Pest Map and Syngenta Program features valuable; all the pertinent information is now made accessible in 3 clicks!” Sharp added.
Empowering Farmers into the Digital Age
The challenge of providing all farmers, especially those in the rural areas, with the devices and the Internet connection necessary to access the app does persist. It’s a challenge that Syngenta recognizes full well, but as explained by Sharp: “The Philippines has been regarded as one of the top users of mobile (for apps and social media platform) across APAC. While it is true that in some sectors of society, connectivity is still a major barrier, we have seen how subscribers found ways to get connected.”
Syngenta Marketing Head Pastor concurred: “Not all farmers have access to apps or the Internet, but we’ve seen an increasing trend in the use of such technology, especially with the younger generation of farmers. We will use all means we have currently – media, our own field force and other platforms- to bring this technology to the growers.”
As emphasized by the DA, agriculture continues to be an important industry sector in the Philippines and will be the key in ensuring food security and reviving the national economy. As such, the department and its extension agencies are pursuing several digital initiatives to educate growers on how digital solutions can help improve their productivity.
Initiatives and innovations, such as Syngenta’s TIWALA, are catalysts in technology adoption. Like any other consumer, Filipino growers who experience for themselves that such tools equip and enable them to better their lives will likely be more open to more technological advances in the future.