NVSU, UM tie for 2021 Innovation Olympics grand prize

TECHNOLOGY innovations introduced by two universities based in Luzon and Mindanao will help smallholder vegetable farmers automate their nutrient management process, minimize labor costs and connect directly with consumers to improve their margins, yields and livelihood.

These are the Automated Irrigation and Nutrient Management system by Team Airin from the Nueva Vizcaya State University (NVSU) and Alipugpug Tech Solutions vertical farming system by Project Angat from the University of Mindanao (UM).

NVSU's Team Airin and UM's Project Angat were deemed the most innovative teams in the second year of the Innovation Olympics (IO 2.0), a nationwide agri-hackathon that provides an avenue and opportunity for young Filipinos to develop and showcase innovative solutions that can help smallholder vegetable farmers.

Dr. Glenn Gregorio, Southeast Asian Regional Center for Graduate Study and Research in Agriculture (SEARCA) director, said both grand winners received P125,000 each as their grand prize to help them further develop their technology solutions and pursue their passion in helping smallholder vegetable farmers improve their lives.

This year's IO 2.0, with the theme "Precision agriculture for small-scale vegetable farming," focused on finding new solutions that can help increase the profitability of smallholder farmers through efficient technologies in crop production.

Gregorio said there were 21 participating teams composed of undergraduate and graduate students from across the country, and six finalists were selected by a panel of experts and judges.

He said the finalists were all given P100,000 as seed money for their months of actual testing and implementation of their technology solutions.

"To our crazy finalists who have crazy youthful ideas, you all hold the future of agriculture. May you continue to step up by taking on this challenge in helping our farmers despite the pandemic. May we never forget to put the human and social aspect in our innovations to help improve our agriculture industry," said Gregorio, also a member of the panel of judges.

NVSU's Team Airin developed an automated irrigation and nutrient management system that helps farmers minimize labor costs by only applying the right amount of fertilizer at the right time and in the right place.

With Airin, farmers get a solar-powered synergistic system with fully automated irrigation and fertigation systems that monitor farm status and send updates via text messaging. This allows vegetable farmers to better understand their farm conditions and respond with correct amendment solutions.

"At the heart of Team Airin, our effort comes from the love of the Filipino farmer community. Being sons and daughters of farmers, we know the challenges that they face and this is where our inspiration comes from. It is our passion and purpose to help improve the lives of farmers so they will never have to worry about putting food to the table," Myka Fragata said during her victory speech.

She was joined by Jaime Hapicio and Maricel Farro as members of the team.

Meanwhile, UM's Project Angat created a farming system with three components: Malakas, an automated solar-powered vertical farming system made from bamboo; Maganda, a water soluble capsule with formulated organic waste materials that stimulate plant growth and protect against diseases; and Dumangan, an online platform that connects the farmers directly to consumers.

With their system, vegetable farming will become a lot more convenient and profitable by allowing farmers to access inputs and markets for their produce.

"Even if we faced a lot of problems and difficulties during the Innovation Olympics, this is now our victory for Project ANGAT of Team Alipugpug Tech Solution. To all our fellow founders, we made it. Let us all continue in our journey in uplifting the lives of small-scale farmers and never stop planting the seeds of change," Elpidio Corbeta Jr. said after being announced as one of the grand winners.

Other members of the team are Daniel Navarro, Stephen Ponteras, John Taylaran, Kim Tomaro and Dale Vinlon.

Gregorio said the IO 2.0 was made possible by East-West Seed (EWS) Philippines, SEARCA, Sensient Colors LLC, and the University of the Philippines Los Baños (UPLB), through UPLB-Technology Transfer and Business Development Office (UPLB-TTBDO), UPLB Startup Innovation and Business Opportunity Linkaging Labs or Sibol Labs, and APEX: The UPLB Business Network.

Henk Herman, EWS Philippines general manager, congratulated the six grand finalists, adding that they all deserved recognition for making it this far.

"We sincerely admire your passion for innovation and your drive to make things happen. As your Innovation Olympic journey ends, a new journey in real world will begin," Herman said.

He encouraged the finalists to keep their great perseverance and continue to further develop their projects.

"It's been a great pleasure and honor at East-West Seed to support talented young innovators like you who share the same goal of empowering our farmers and transforming the agriculture industry," Herman said.

SEARCA and EWS Philippines officials said despite the long continuance of the pandemic, the projects from IO 2.0 provide an optimistic future for the Philippines' agriculture sector, and showcase that leveraging technology and combining it with farming skills can provide greater results and improvement in the farming industry.

The IO 2.0 culminated on October 15 with Archie, BalZip, FarmJuan and Chlomet as the other finalists.

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