AGRICULTURE SUMMIT IN CALIFORNIA. Agriculture Secretary Emmanuel Pinol poses with International Agriculture and Trade Summit organizers led by Emma Tiebens and participants-exhibitors at the Hilton Hotel in Palm Springs, California. Secretary Pinol, guest speaker in the event, is promoting food production as well as export of Philippine products. He is visiting farms in California. Earlier, he visited Canada, Japan, Indonesia, and attended the Ministers Meeting in Peru where he opened up tie-ups for Philippine agriculture. (Photo courtesy of Emma Tiebens)
By ALFRED GABOT
A novel project to help the country’s farmers and fishermen as well as the consumers has been launched by Agriculture Secretary Emmanuel F. Pinol in simple ceremonies at his office in the Department of Agriculture in Diliman, Quezon City. Called the “FARMHELP,” it is an APP especially designed to run on smartphones and other mobile devices like the IPads, tablets and notepads and even the PC itself that links everybody almost instantaneously to Secretary Pinol and the Department of Agriculture, its officers, bureaus, corporate agencies and offices, agriculture experts and, after enough time, provides the answers to complaints and questions, gives instructions, solutions and dish out information on all matters in the agriculture and fisheries industry and everything under the province of the agency.
FARMHELP is actually not new to the Filipinos and other countries but unlike other mobile APPs, FARMHELP can be downloaded for free and works 24 hours a day and seven days a week. And its clientele – the public, especially farmers and fishers and would-be farmers – gets vital information, tips and instructions and solutions to their concerns and problems and even weather advisories absolutely for free. FARMHELP also links the users to the police, firemen and hospitals and even directly to the doorsteps of Malacanang and President Rodrigo Duterte who was the only candidate in the last presidential election with a campaign platform to provide all-out support to the agriculture sector and the nation’s millions of poor farmers, fishermen and food producers. The linkup is possible because the very same information technology experts who designed President Duterte’s hotlines 911 and 8888 were the ones who developed it. While 911 acts on emergencies, the President’s Hotline 8888 is dedicated to complaints against fixers, scalawag officials and poor government services. Callers will be asked to identify the government employee and agency tagged in their complaint, date and details of the incident, their proposed solution and contact details.
Although the project is only at its beginnings, Secretary Pinol was visibly happy and proud to launch it in the presence of National Scientist and former Dean of the University of the Philippines Dr. Teodulo Topacio, now a consultant of the Excellence Group of Companies, and top executives of the Excellence Group led by its Chairman and President Dr. Eulalio D. Lorenzo, COO Emmanuel Berbano, Dr. Gil Nicolas, Dr. Dennis Umali of the University of the Philippines Los Banos and this writer who called on him to congratulate him for his achievements and to offer to team up with the DA on research and production to enliven the country’s livestock and poultry industry.
“This is a project and work in progress as a vehicle for our lowly farmers and fisherfolk and even the consumers to reach the Department of Agriculture and its agencies for help and the DA to reach out for them and provide timely information, tips, instructions and others,” Pinol stresses. “We will continue to improve it to be able to provide wider range of information and assistance to our farmers and fishers,” he says. “We are looking at providing prices index and guide as to the availability of food and other commodities in certain regions of the country and thus avoid price manipulation and wastage of farm products, especially the perishable ones,” he adds. “So apart from its educational value, FARMHELP could also eventually be a market place for Filipino products, thus ensure the viability of farming and affordable prices for the farmers’ produce.”
Secretary Pinol says that FARMHELP is useful even when there is no Internet because it can be reached and can respond through text messaging. The APP has also telephone hotline links manned 24 hours a day and seven days a week. “At this time, we have only few call and message center agents to accept and process calls and messages, but as soon as we have conducted a nation-wide information campaign even in the countrysides about the project, we will expand the desks accordingly as we will be expecting a deluge of calls, texts and emails,” he reveals. He has a warning though: “FARMHELP has a capability to instantly locate and identify callers and message senders where ever they are in the country and even overseas thus could act speedily on franksters who will try to bungle the system by sending hoax information and requests.” He addss that the APP has a large archive that can store, process and analyze all the data that it receives for a long period of time.
To ensure quick response from responsible DA officers and success of the project, Secretary Pinol says he intends to buy and distribute high-end smart phones to all DA officials, especially the regional directors and bureau heads so that they can readily act on all complaints, requests for assistance and information referred to them by the FARMHELP desks. “We will all act with dispatch, especially on reports on pests and infestations on plants, poultry and livestock in the farms, drought or lack of irrigation water and other emergency concerns,” he emphasizes. “All DA functionaries will be properly given instructions on how to deal with FARMHELP concerns. We will be able to monitor the officials who will be sleeping on the dispatches from FARMHELP,” he says, adding that the smartphones to be issued to them will even report their locations at any given time during their tour of duty in the DA. “Mahuhuli natin yong wala sa kanilang opisina at hindi nagtatrabaho,” the DA chief chuckles.
But it will not be just the Department of Agriculture officials who will be issued smartphones. Secretary Pinol says that responsible leaders of agriculture groups and farm cooperatives maybe given mobile phones that will link them to the DA and be part of the DA’s FARMHELP nation-wide information and assistance network. “Of course, the mobile phones of the farm leaders will not be as high end as those for the DA officials, but just the same they will be as functional and as effective in the relay of information, complaints, tips, instructions and solutions,” he elaborates. “The DA FARMHELP thus will bring directly the government to the farmers and fisherfolk.”
National Scientist Dr. Topacio and Dr. Lorenzo of the Excellence Group of Companies were all smiles and praises for the hard-working Secretary Pinol at the launching of the DA FARMHELP project. “This is a unique and noble way to help our farming heroes – the farmers and fishers – in this digital age. Here, the government expresses its deep concern to the unsung heroes of the farms many of whom have remained poor for ages. This will be a vital vehicle for distance learning for farmers as well,” points out Dr. Topacio, a former Dean of the UP College of Veterinary Medicine who honed his expertise and research as a scholar in two prestigious universities in the United States. Dr. Lorenzo, an equally experienced and successful veterinarian and leader in the farm animal health, nutrition and production, agrees with his conglomerate’s top consultant. They both subscribe to a global expert who believes that a farmer’s knowledge is the basis for development and that being aware of this knowledge helps farmers decide on the new information that they wish to acquire fitting their farm setting, economy, culture and interests. The DA’s FARMHELP is a big boost to this.
After the launch, the inspired Secretary Pinol readily engaged Dr. Topacio, Dr. Lorenzo, COO Berbano and the Excellence Group experts in an initial discussion on their plan to lend their expertise in helping boost livestock and poultry production in the country. The DA chief even summoned Dr. Enrico P. Garzon Jr., Assistant Secretary for Livestock, and Dr. Simeon S. Amurao Jr., officer in charge of the Bureau of Animal Industry, to the dialogue but it was only Dr. Garzon who was able to join them as Dr. Amurao was out of town. Secretary Pinol directed Asec Garzon to hold another round of talks with the Excellence Group to discuss all aspects of the proposal and come out with a recommendation. Secretary Pinol emphasized the importance of livestock – cattle, hogs and ruminants — and poultry (chicken, ducks, birds) for food and for export, saying it will be one of the priorities of the Department of Agriculture under the administration of President Duterte. (Alfred Gabot/PhilAmPress/PhlTodayUSA)