By Atty. Gilberto Lauengco, J.D.

Artificial Intelligence, innovation and agriculture

“AI will impact every industry on Earth including agriculture…” - Fei Fei Li

There is a town in Central Luzon where dozens of farmers depend solely on a single irrigation canal for their irrigation needs. The source of the water is the Angat Dam. Unfortunately, El Niño and climate change have severely limited the amount of water that could be released to these farmers. As a result, authorities have resorted to manually rationing the water under a rotation scheme. The limited water supply has forced some of the farmers to delay their planting season and push back their harvest window dangerously close to the rainy and stormy season, which may prove fatal to their crops. What is worse is that the farmers nearer Angat Dam often siphon the water meant for the farms farther from the source, thereby reducing the water available for the said farms. This problem, along with a slew of other difficulties caused by climate change, can be found in many farms in our country.

Last month, it was reported in the Philippine Development Report (PDR) that the government has set plans to adopt digital technologies, including artificial intelligence (AI), to modernize the country’s agriculture sector. Initially, the use of AI will be mainly the use of tons of data to provide farmers with optimum methods for various aspects of farming.

The use of AI for agriculture purposes has grown by leaps and bounds this year. For irrigation problems like the ones we are having, some countries have turned to AI-driven smart irrigation systems that apply the right amount of water to plants at the right time, thus, conserving water and maximizing planting rotations. The system uses predictive analytics for weather conditions and water requirements. They have also started using AI-driven sprinkler systems that apply the bare minimum water directly to the plants and a system that does drip irrigation that delivers water directly to roots.

In India, tech-savvy farmers are now using drones, smart devices for precision farming and pest identification to ensure maximizing yield. The drones are used to spray biofertilizers on fields in a precise and time-efficient manner. Indian farms also use special moisture sensors that can check the moisture level around the primary root zone of plants. Apparently, while the surface might look dry, the sensors can measure underground data and measure if the plants still have sufficient moisture levels. As such, farmers need not apply water as much as before. According to Indian authorities, AI-driven smart irrigation tools have helped India conserve “80 billion liters of water.”

In our country, an automated crop irrigation system that is linked to predictive analytics for weather and with the ability to detect leaks and waste can really help conserve and maximize our water resources.

Admittedly, the cost of AI-driven agricultural tools is still high. Increased yield and profits, however, can make it worthwhile for private enterprises to form partnerships with farmer cooperatives in running AI-driven farms. Academic institutions can also center their research efforts on these programs to provide needed data. Combined with AI-related initiatives from the government, a multi-sectoral approach could be the way to jumpstart Philippine agriculture to the next level.

The prospect of robots, in various forms, planting, monitoring, and harvesting crops and plants may be nearer to reality than we think. We must make efforts not to get left behind. For me, I’m just excited to finally see customized robots that look like Cylons or R2D2 toiling on our farms.

This is my oblique observation.

Editor’s note: The opinions expressed in the foregoing article are solely the author’s and do not reflect the opinions and beliefs of the Philippine News Agency (PNA) or any other office under the Presidential Communications Office.


About the Columnist

Image of Atty. Gilberto Lauengco, J.D.

ATTY. GILBERTO LAUENGCO, J.D. is a lawyer, educator, political strategist, government consultant, Lego enthusiast, and the director of CAER Think Tank. He is a Former Vice Chairman of MECO, Special Assistant of NFA and City Administrator among others. His broad experience has molded his unique approach to issues analysis which he calls the oblique observation.