Written by Jaime A Manalo IV
In December 2012, PhilRice started its collaboration with the Technical Vocational (TecVoc) Unit of the Bureau of Secondary Schools of the Department of Education. The partnership is under the Memorandum of Understanding between DepEd and the DA, to which PhilRice is attached. Mobilising high school students to serve as information providers (infomediaries) is the main aim of the collaboration.
Under the Infomediary Project, high school students will be taught on the Infomediary Module, which is basically rice farming-related topics plus introductions to information hubs in agriculture. Specifically, the students will be introduced to the Open Academy for Philippine Agriculture-developed platforms the Pinoy Rice Knowledge Bank (PRKB) and the PhilRice Farmers’ Text Center (PFTC). PRKB is a website that contains most information one has to know about rice farming in the Philippines. PFTC is a texting platform that answers all queries in rice production.
To give the students hands on experience on rice farming, all participating schools will set up rice gardens, to be managed by the students, featuring some of the newly-released rice varieties. Toward harvest, the schools will hold Field Days where farmers in the area will see the rice gardens, and the students will be asked to explain the practice. The Infomediary Project is expected to create a difference, as far as information access on rice farming is concerned, in remote rice farming communities where information poverty is prevalent.
Mobilizing young people requires that new approaches be employed. To this end, the campaign banks on edutainment (education and entertainment) strategies to effectively convey the messages of the campaign. Agri games, infomediary quiz bee and other fun-based strategies are in place for this project.
Partnership with TecVoc
Since December 2012, more than 60 teachers from all over the country have participated in the infomediary training. Those teachers were from agricultural schools under TecVoc. At present, they are simultaneously implementing the campaign.
During the initial site visits of the Infomediary Team, some interesting discoveries have surfaced. There seems a stark similarity between the current direction of PhilRice, which is Palayamanan Plus, and the set up of the participating TecVoc high schools. Optimizing production through sound agroecological practices is at the heart of Palayamanan Plus. This is the very same scenario that the Team saw. For instance in the Ilocos Norte Agricultural College (INAC), an efficient agricultural production is in place. The school maintains a small dragon fruit plantation with over 200 posts, sorghum, pond for tilapia fingerlings, and plenty of fruit-bearing trees. Inside the school, they also raise cows and some livestock. With PhilRice, the school will start its participatory technology demonstration on upland rice varieties.
Owing to the nature of a TecVoc high school, INAC has a food processing major for its students. Hence, their dragon fruits are processed into other products such as dragon fruit leche flan. The rice they produce is sold locally. While the school cannot as yet go on massive production, this early it seems clear that opportunities for entrepreneurship are high, not just for the school but for the students as well.
In Cagayan Rural Vocational School, a unique and interesting case for agricultural extension is possible. It is the first time that the school will mainstream rice production in the classroom. Owing to the inadequacy of space inside the school, the administrators decided to have their technology demonstration area side by side with the farmers’ fields several meters away from the school. During their crop establishment, the adviser did the modified dapog method, which impressed the farmers. The rice demonstration of RVS features NSIC RC300 and 302, some of the newest lowland rice varieties.
Prior to partnering with TecVoc, the infomediary project was pilot-tested last year in two high schools in Aurora: Bayanihan National High School and Maria Aurora National High School. Plenty of good things happened such as strong evidence of the students performing infomediary roles. PFTC received and responded to more than 300 text messages during the course of campaign implementation. Questions on variety, pest management and weather were among the frequently asked questions of the students. The students asked and shared the information they learned to their parents and other farmers in their area. Through the pilot-testing, the Team likewise documented instances when the students became active participants in making decisions for their rice farm.
What happened in Aurora is what is being envisioned to be replicated in all participating schools. The project wants to mobilize the students to search information on cost-reducing and yield-enhancing rice varieties, and pass the information they will gather to their farmer-parents. Additionally, it is hoped that in the process, bringing back the love for rice farming will also be possible.
(The author is the campaign team lead of the “Sagot ko ang magulang ko: Isang kampanya upang hikayatin ang mga kabataang maging infomediaries”.)