MANILA, August 30, 2003  The establishment of an Open Academy for Philippine Agriculture was formalized on July 28, 2003, with the signing of a memorandum of understanding (MOU) among two government departments, several universities, and two international research organizations.

Led by Agriculture Secretary Luis Lorenzo Jr. and Science and Technology Secretary Estrella Alabastro, the MOU was joined in by the University of the Philippines Open University (UPOU) Chancellor Felix Librero; Pampanga Agricultural College (PAC) President Zosimo Battad, University of Southern Mindanao (USM) President Virgilio Oliva Sr.; and the International Crops Research for Semi-Arid Tropics (ICRISAT) Director General William Dar.

The signing was witnessed by DA-Information Technology Center for Agriculture and Fisheries (ITCAF) Director Roberto Villa; Agricultural Training Institute (ATI) Director Alberto Maningding; Bureau of Agricultural Research (BAR) Director William Medrano; Philippine Rice Research Institute (PhilRice) Executive Director Leo Sebastian; Advanced Science and Technology Institute (ASTI) Director Delfin Jay Sabido IX; and DA Office of the Secretary (OSEC) Assistant for Field Operations Santiago Obien.

Other signatories in the MOU include the International Rice Research Institute (IRR) in Los Baños, Laguna and the Central Luzon State University (CLSU), in Nueva Ecija.

"This is an important day for Philippine agriculture, more especially to farmers who are the primary producers. The MOU signing institutionalized the Open Academy as a platform for promoting technology on a scale never before seen in this country," said Dar.

The Philippines’ Open Academy shall form part of a global network of Open Academy for farmers now being organized in the CGIAR system, of which the ICRISAT has pioneering efforts in India and Africa.

Here in the Philippines, the signing of the MOU catalyzes the interconnection of existing government networks – those of the nationwide broadband data backbone of the ASTI, dubbed as Philippine Research, Government, Education Information Network (PREGINET); the BAR network clusters in Ilocos, Isabela, Nueva Ecija, Visayas, and Mindanao; the DA-ITCAF National Information Network, with its satellite-based network backbone, now with seven of its 13 VSATs operational. Network administrators are now mapping out locations of ATI, RIARCs, FITs, for the "last mile" connection to the access points and network backbones.

This means that knowledge generators and content providers such as IRRI, PhilRice, BAR, and PCARRD; learning centers such as the open universities, state colleges and universities, and the ATI centers can now converge and link up with any of the network backbones to provide on-line information services, knowledge databases, diagnostic tools, advisory, or interactive forum and video conferencing.

Through ICT, individuals and organizations can collaborate in an open environment where extension workers and farmers can draw knowledge and information services related to agriculture, using a PC or celfone. "It’s like the Philippines has its own internet, generating and sharing knowledge on agriculture from within, from knowledge and information servers of each government agency."

"And this shall give them a basket of technologies and information that shall empower farmers to make better decisions, increase their productivity and livelihood. This is a victory for the farmers, especially the rice farmers whom the program shall initially support, diversifying into rice-based systems, livestock and other small holder systems," emphasized Dr. Dar.

The formal launch of the Open Academy is set in November. During this initial phase, the Open Academy shall focus on hybrid rice. This shall diversify in the next few years to cover rice-based farming systems, including livestock and fishery. Pilot areas where hybrid rice is grown extensively are in Nueva Ecija, Pampanga, Isabela, and Davao del Sur. Satellite sites shall be in Agusan del Norte, North Cotabato and Batac, Ilocos Norte. These satellite sites shall focus on other crops, but the main activity shall be to test the network infrastructure and connectivity, preparatory activities for the expansion of the program.

Due to its advanced network infrastructure and being the lead agency in hybrid rice promotion, PhilRice was tasked to initially lead the Open Academy for Philippine Agriculture. Dr. Santiago Obien is serving as the chair of its advisory council, with Dr. Leo Sebastian as the vice chair. Dr. Ed Redoña is the chair of the technical working group; PhilRice’s Roger Barroga is the program leader, PCARRD’s Dr. Bessie Burgos is co-program leader, and PhilRice’s Karen Barroga heads the secretariat. The advisory council is made up of the heads of participating agencies.

Reported by: Sol Jose Vanzi

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