Digital operations a new normal for DA
The Department of Agriculture (DA) will digitize its operations to adapt to the new normal for agriculture brought by the COVID-19 pandemic, a move that has been long overdue but impeded by lack of manpower and funds.
Agriculture Secretary William Dar, in an interview, said the DA wanted to upgrade farmers’ and fishermen’s registry system (FFRS) and a system of monitoring assistance given to farmers, called FIMS, by blending all data from DA regional offices, bureaus, agencies and corporations and foreign and local projects and partner local government units.
The digital shift would also facilitate real time recording of agriculture-fishery information and reports about DA projects through mobile geotagging technology.
The FFRS and FIMS include the Registry System for Basic Sectors in Agriculture, or RSBSA, which contains information on individual farmers and fishermen. It serves as a basis to design programs and policies for the sector, including who should benefit from such services.
Dar said in the course of the DA’s COVID-19 initiatives—wherein billions of pesos were distributed to stakeholders in the form of subsidies and loans—the department received reports that nonagricultural workers got agriculture aid, too, while others were listed twice on the registry.
This is alarming for an agency that funnelled at least P100 billion to the rice industry alone in 2019. The DA spent for palay procurement, loans, cash transfers, insurance and extension services – the distribution of which were all anchored on the RSBSA.
The secretary said he expects to begin the digital shift by the third quarter of 2020 with funding from its ambitious “Plant, Plant, Plant” program.
Dar said the would allocate P1 billion to modernize operations. But of the P31 billion that the department requested to fund its flagship project, only P8.5 billion for the rice resiliency program had been released.
Noel Reyes, DA spokesperson, said in an e-mail that lack of funding had significantly held back what should have been a consistent updating of the agency’s registry.
In March, the Inquirer reached out to the department for the updated list of farmers registered per region, but the DA said it could provide figures based only on version 1.0 of the RSBSA, which was last updated in 2013.
Ideally, the RSBSA should be updated every three years, depending on the availability of funds, Reyes said.
Rene Cerilla, president of the Pambansang Kilusan ng mga Samahan ng Magsasaka, said that the agency’s registry continues to be influenced by politics.
“Only those who are in good relations with the authority are prioritized or are given assistance,” said Cerilla.
“Those who are really in need are sidelined, so you can really say that there is something wrong with how things are being done,” he said.
Rosadilla Limbres, a farmer from Bukidnon, said she has never even heard of the RSBSA. Limbres has been planting palay for three decades now.
Limbres’ lack of awareness on RSBSA echoes the story of several farm workers, and so the agriculture chief said the goal is to make the system “transparent, publicized, integrated, and foolproof.”
Dar said that a web-based system could ensure that only intended beneficiaries would receive and use the services and support inputs from the DA and reduce chances of corruption and other forms of malpractice.
He said this is also a way to attract young people and agriculture entrepreneurs to engage in farming, fisheries and other agricultural ventures as the country adapts to the new normal.
Edited by TSB
Subscribe to INQUIRER PLUS to get access to The Philippine Daily Inquirer & other 70+ titles, share up to 5 gadgets, listen to the news, download as early as 4am & share articles on social media. Call 896 6000.