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Hundred-dollar 'Pnoy' tablet computer proposed to modernize Philippine agri

Indian students hold up units of the Aakash, which is touted as the world's cheapest tablet computer. Photo courtesy of REUTERS means BUSINESS

MANILA, Philippines - As part of the government's effort to modernize the country's agriculture sector, the Department of Agriculture (DA) is seeking partners for a proposed 'Pnoy' tablet computer.

The Bureau of Agricultural Research (BAR) and the International Crops Research Institute for the Semi-Arid Tropics (ICRISAT) is looking to develop a $100-tablet computer that will give DA's extension workers - technicians who will educate farmers - access to critical farm information such as soil nutrients and farm goods markets.

Dr. William Dar, ICRISAT director general, said the tablet computer should also have 24/7 access to the Internet and focused on vital farm information and geographic information system (GIS).

"The GIS will be pivotal in enabling farmers to determine whether the crop they are planting in a particular location is suitable to that location.  It will help them determine if the type of soil needs certain types of fertilizer, or whether water or moisture needed in plant growth may be sufficient in this farm area," Dar said.

ICRISAT’s network in India where Dar, a former DA secretary, is based, will extend the Philippines assistance in fabricating the hardware, the tablet PC.

Arun Tiwani, Indo US Healthcare chairman, said Indian Telephone Industry, run by the Indian government, can fabricate the tablet for the Philippines given government’s approval.

“We’ll have a bilateral agreement. William Dar is using his experience and influence in India to produce for the Philippines the kind of tablet computer that India will have for its students in three to six months,” said Tiwani.

Tiwani envisions a "Pnoy Dar Tablet" computer that will cost only around $100 or P4,300 each.

"Pnoy" is the popular nickname for President Benigno Noynoy Aquino III.

Dr. Nicomedes Eleazar, BAR director, said the agency will help provide content for the tablet, while the ICRISAT will facilitate the Agropedia content – a farm management system that a consortium of seven institutions that ICRISAT developed to aid Indian farmers.

“The Agropedia will be very useful to our own farmers, initially to our extension workers.  We’ll discuss on how to implement this project with our partners in DA, the Information Technology Center for Agriculture and Fisheries, and the private sector,” Eleazar said.

In India, the tablet computer for students costs only $50, of which $25 is shouldered by the government, and the $25 is paid by the student.

Access to the Internet is provided by the Indian government, which also controls the telecommunications business, at an equivalent of P100 a month.  An initial 100,000 tablet computers will be produced in India for the pilot stage of the project. A similar volume may be produced for the Philippines.