Tuesday, October 06, 2009

Connecting More with Less

A Cost-Saving ICT Practice by WESVARRDEC
By Nicolas Banquero and Niño Manaog

Composed of six provinces scattered in three islands—Negros Occidental, Guimaras, Capiz, Aklan, Antique and Iloilo—Western Visayas is considerably a big archipelagic region. From its regional hub in Iloilo City, it takes some three to five hours to travel to the other peripheral areas.

However, despite such limiting geographical composition, the Western Visayas Agriculture and Resources Research and Development Consortium (WESVARRDEC) has significantly established a good number of Farmers Information & Technology Services (FITS) Centers, which implements the needed projects and programs throughout the region.

In Aklan, farmers’ centers are found in the towns of Banga, Ibajay and Nabas. In Antique, considered the center of muscovado industry in the region, the consortium has established six centers in Sibalom, Barbaza, Tobias Fornier, Anini-y, Libertad and the booming municipality of San Jose. In the inner Panay province of Capiz, the FITS center established in Capiz State University (CapSU) in the poblacion of Mambusao focuses on coconuts. In Iloilo, eleven FITS Centers have been extending services to farmers in Pavia, Oton, Batad, Lemery, Maasin, Tubungan, Barotac Viejo, Dumangas, Bingawan, Igbaras and WVCST (Western Visayas College of Science and Technology) campus situated in the municipality of Leon.

Meanwhile, Negros Occidental has an entirely varied concentration on organic and agricultural production. While the Philippine Carabao Center (PCC) in La Granja focuses on carabao milk production, the OPA based in Bacolod City leads in organic agriculture. Based on this, Bacoleños seem self-sufficient as the other farmers’ centers in their province promote high-value vegetables (Escalante City) and rice (Cadiz City). Also, under the leadership of the Office of the Provincial Agriculturist (OPA), the FITS Center established in Guimaras promotes the whole year production of mangoes.

Table 1. Number of FITS Centers per Province

The same geographical distance between the agencies posed a preventing factor for the consortium’s Regional Techno Gabay Program. For one, it has encountered difficulties in coordinating activities with its partner member agencies. This includes sending out communication and documents to pertinent offices that will help deliver the needed assistance.

To bridge this communication gap, the Philippine Council for Agriculture Forestry and Natural Resources Research and Development (PCARRD) and its Technology Outreach and Promotion Division (TOPD) conducted a Partner Member Agency (PMA) consultation at the Aklan State University in Banga, Aklan in January 2008.

The purpose is to enhance the link of the extension programs of the consortium member agencies with the FITS Centers and reduce the Regional Techno Gabay Program Office (RTGPO)’s workload in terms of monitoring and evaluation (M&E) of various FITS Centers. The PMA scheme has been set not only to level off the expectations of PCARRD-WESVARRDEC-PMA in the monitoring of FITS Centers but also to provide technical support as partner of FITS Center and assist in its day-to-day operations. One salient feature of this scheme requires that to effectively monitor and evaluate the progress and activities in the FITS Center , it should be at least within 50 kilometer reach of the PMA.

In case of Western Visayas, FITS Centers have been strategically assigned to the partner member agencies most proximate to them. See table below.

Table 2. WESVARRDEC’s PMA FITS Assignments

After the PMA scheme consultation, the Techno Gabay (TG) leader of each PMA was tasked to serve as the focal person for the FITS Center who then monitors for FITS report for submission to the RTGPO. The representative does not only chair WESVARRDEC committee, he also takes the lead in the implementation of the Science and Technology-Based Farm.

Although the establishment of PMA scheme unloads some of the work of RTGPO in terms of coordinating the 26 FITS Centers in the region, the geographical location still has posed a problem at the regional level to the FITS Centers, Magsasaka Siyentista (MS) and the PMA.

Given this challenging situation, WESVARRDEC decided to create an e-group account. E-group is where people with a shared interest meet, get to know each other, and stay informed. Like other Internet mechanisms, the e-group gives members instant access to shared message archives, photos and photo albums and group event calendars. Not only that they benefit from the member polls and shared links and archives information, the e-group account is also accessed and freely availed.

At present, the e-group feeds pertinent information and updates to some there are 12 members composed of FITS Centers under K-AgriNet, PMA TG team leaders, and PCARRD personnel. As administrator, WESVARRDEC and RTGPO maintains constant link to the PCARRD TG Coordinator for these concerns.

Linked to the PCARRD secretariat, the e-group is so designed to facilitate communication between the consortium, member agencies and FITS Center . Such mechanism reduces communication cost the telephone bills, providing easy access to the Techno Gabay file.

Making use of the equipment and facilities so designed for this purpose by the K-AgriNet program, the consortium’s RTGP reduced the workload in sending out communication because it involved one-time posting of announcements while notifying all members concerned. The personnel’s constant use of this Internet feature to communicate has allowed for the consortium to get fast, immediate responses on the announcements posted online.

In the past, it would take one to two weeks before the consortium personnel gets responses and feedback on the posted communication from the other member agencies. With the use of e-groups in the Internet, persons connected respond promptly to immediate concerns. Otherwise, stored offline messages usually facilitate overnight or next-day response.

As shown in the representation below, this seemingly simple ICT intervention has significantly lowered the consortium’s printing cost, paper consumption and monthly telephone bills. With these, paper works and sending of communication thru fax has also been reduced.

Table 3. Communication Cost

Using the e-group mechanism, a total communication cost of Php3,157.50 per transaction was reduced to Php1,957.50. Here, it is also important to note how interaction and exchange of SMS has made impact to the FITS Center and to the consortium. It also communication gap and even hastened the information dissemination. In having taken advantage of such mechanism, the consortium has substantially recognized the value of ICT innovation through the K-AgriNet program.

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