Academic journal article Journal of Development Communication

An ICT Project in the Philippines Wins the AGFUND Award

Academic journal article Journal of Development Communication

An ICT Project in the Philippines Wins the AGFUND Award

Article excerpt

The Open Academy for Philippine Agriculture (OPAPA), a government institution, won the annual AGFUND (Arab Gulf Programme for Development) award in 2010 for applying a series of different ICT technologies and strategies in an innovative manner to communicate timely information and knowledge to extension workers, farmers and fisher folk in rural communities and enhance their decision making skills.

The media approaches were selected in accordance with the needs of different beneficiaries, and in particular to reach remote communities without access to Internet. These ICT tools have provided beneficiaries with a feedback mechanism to identify their needs, and enable knowledge generators to develop the most appropriate service for the community. They have established an interactive mechanism for exchange of knowledge and information.

The project was based on a similar project implemented in India by the Swaminathan Foundation. It is based on three concepts: distance learning, e-extension and e-commerce. It provides a series of online and web based services to provide technical information, advise, training, education, and knowledge in agriculture. It links different stakeholders dealing with agricultural innovation, including public institutions, policymakers, scientists, markets, business organisations, extension workers and farming communities.

The project has an innovative institutional framework: It is a component of the K-Agri-Net-Program, a virtual alliance and network of government institutions, open universities and international research centers (ICRISAT and IRRI) to provide knowledge, training, extension and communication in agriculture. The Philippine Institute for Rice Research (PhilRice) is the government corporate agency attached to the Department of Agriculture responsible for the implementation of OPAPA. The virtual alliance brings together the specialisation and resources of each partner institution for the attainment of common goals, thus saving financial and technical resources. For example, OPAPA uses and optimises existing government and university ICT infrastructures and networks for its open learning activities. It is a pioneering approach for the Government of the Philippines, and could be used as a model for other projects in government agencies dealing with agriculture, agrarian reform and natural resources.

The Project

Computer technology and the Internet have been the primary tool for training and educating extension workers, improving the quality and timeliness of their services. Agricultural government services and extension in the Philippines were fragmented and weak, and traditional training was costly. OPAPA was the first government agency to offer computer literacy training courses to extension workers in the Philippines. A systematic two-day basic training course was implemented with lecture-discussion and hands-on practicals. More than 10,000 extension workers received the initial basic training with the result of eliminating their fear factor, appreciating the potential of the computer as their tool, and making them advocates of ICT in local government. ICTs have given them immediate linkages to knowledge centers, researchers and technical experts to solve the production and post production problems of farmers with the latest trends and in real time ...

Distance learning has been used to update and train extension workers on new rice production technologies without convening them in a typical classroom format thus reducing the cost of training, travel, board and lodging and other fees.

But, reaching farmers without connectivity, the so-called "last mile" has been the greatest and most difficult challenge met by OPAPA. Mobile phone technology and SMS text messages are an essential part of Filipino's lives. At the cost of P1.00 per text message even farmers can afford it. The mobile phone has proven to be the most preferred tool to access information and to link research, extension and farmers. …

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