The Infomediary Campaign
Philippine Rice Research Institute

A. Problem Analysis

 1. What was the problem before the implementation of the initiative?
It has long been said that in rice production in the Philippines the issue is not much on the availability of information but more on how to access it. The country hosts the International Rice Research Institute and the Philippine Rice Research Institute—two big institutions that generate a wealth of knowledge on rice. Clearly, availability of information is not the issue; it is more on how to adequately access this wealth of information. This relates to the perennial issue of the Philippines on the inadequate number of agricultural extension workers (AEWs). The Philippines only has 13, 285 agricultural extension workers relative to the more than 2 million rice farmers according to the presentation of Asterio Saliot, the then director of the Agricultural Training Institute. Aside from the inadequacy of the number of AEWs, the terrain in doing extension work in the country is quite challenging given the fact that it is an archipelago and that there are plenty of underdeveloped areas in terms of access to transportation; hence, even the most well-intentioned AEWs will have second thoughts visiting these places. These gaps in agricultural extension certainly has some impact on the access of farmers particularly those in remote rice-farming communities on rice production technologies. Consequently, this deprives them from getting higher rice yield and the chance to improve their quality of life. This is a serious concern in the Philippines as in 2014, according to the National Statistical and Coordination Board, farmers remain as among the poorest in the country.

B. Strategic Approach

 2. What was the solution?
Given the issues method above, the solution undertaken was to tap high school students, 13-17 years old, to serve as infomediaries or information providers in their respective rice-farming communities. The initiative was then named as The Infomediary Campaign. The key concept is while it is very difficult to visit the individual rice-farming households, which are oftentimes in remote communities, their children converge in school; hence, the school must be used to serve as the nucleus of agricultural science.

 3. How did the initiative solve the problem and improve people’s lives?
First, it should be noted that the Campaign benefited from the strong support of the Department of Education in the Philippines. Since, the students were the target of this intervention, arrangements were made to hold capacity enhancement programs for high school teachers. Some 225 Technical-Vocational high school teachers from all over the Philippines were trained under this Campaign. These teachers then taught about their learnings from the training in their respective classes. The Campaign had three main components: Read, Surf, and Text. In the Read component, reading materials on rice were provided to participating schools. It was highly relevant in sites where there was no electricity. In the Surf component, the students, through their teachers, were introduced to the PinoyRice, which is an information portal on rice. In the Text Component, the students were introduced by their teachers to the PhilRice Text Center, which is an SMS facility for farmers and other rice stakeholders. Some 75 teachers, as of this writing, managed to teach lessons they learned from the training in their respective classes. From 2012 when the Campaign started until 2016, more than 12,000 SMSs from the students had been received by the PTC. These came from more than 4,000 student-texters (infomediaries). Monitoring reports by the Team found that students’ texting behavior coincided with the peaks in rice farming operations (harvesting and crop establishment), and that they also matched the interests of the farmers (SMSs of the students and farmers were compared). The team was also able to document instances of adoption of cost-reducing and yield-enhancing rice production technologies such as the use of certified seeds (promises 10% yield advantage over regular seeds), leaf color chart (assesses need for Nitrogen; hence, encourages savings as farmers will only apply N if needed), and controlled irrigation (water management technology); no burning of rice straw; and use of biological control agents. It was also found in the cost comparisons done that the modes of accessing information introduced by the Team to access information on rice (use of PTC and PinoyRice) were 37.5% cheaper than the conventional ones (going to the commercial center to access information, which entails huge cost for transportation)

C. Execution and Implementation

 4. In which ways is the initiative creative and innovative?
Using action research to its advantage, the Infomediary Campaign was innovative in tapping the school as the nucleus of rice science and development. It mobilized the youth to serve as rice extensionists, which helped, albeit informally, addressed issues on the inadequacy of AEWs in the country. Given that the students were being trained in schools, the issue on difficult terrain was also adequately addressed. At the theoretical level, the Campaign was also able to challenge widespread notion that young people are no longer interested to farm. It can be argued that like or dislike to farming is contextual and that generalizations must be avoided. The key components of the Campaign (Read, Surf, Text) and its key activities (training of teachers, putting up of rice garden in all participating schools which gave the students the chance to do some hands-on activities on rice) were all laid out well, which contributed to the success of this initiative.

 5. Who implemented the initiative and what is the size of the population affected by this initiative?
Since its implementation in 2012, the Infomediary Campaign has been a collaborative effort between the Philippine Rice Research Institute (PhilRice) of the Department of Agriculture and the TechVoc Unit of the Department of Education (DepEd). The CGIAR Research Program on Climate Change, Agriculture, and Food Security (CGIAR-CCAFS) partnered with PhilRice in the last quarter of 2013. The Campaign has eight major stakeholders: high school students, their farmer-parents, farmers in the community, community leaders, teachers who were trained under the Campaign, their colleagues, key school officials and the officials of the DepEd. The Campaign engaged 208 TechVoc high schools in the Philippines.
 6. How was the strategy implemented and what resources were mobilized?
The Campaign had three main components: Read, Surf, and Text. In the Read component, partner-schools were provided with reading materials on rice from PhilRice. This proved relevant especially to the schools/communities with poor ICT facilities or those with no electricity. The Surf component introduced the students to PinoyRice, an information portal on rice farming in the Philippines. It has an offline version that can be installed in computers, to be used by schools with unreliable internet. The Text component introduced the PTC to the students, an online SMS platform where anyone can send queries on rice farming and receive responses from experts. Aside from the key components, the Campaign had several banner activities. The capacity enhancement for teachers focused on educating them on rice farming through exposure to rice farming technologies, both in theory and in practice. Subject matters during training programs covered Rice Production, Climate Change 101, and Climate-smart agriculture, all following a teaching module. They eventually shared their learnings to their students. Going back to their respective schools, PhilRice gave the seed starter packs and teaching modules that the teachers could use in teaching and setting up their respective school rice gardens. The rice garden served as the demonstration area to where the teachers and the students applied rice production technologies. Several lessons and best-fit practices related here were documented. The parents and other farmers in their community were also engaged. Partner-schools conducted field days to where the students showcased the technologies and other learnings to the community. Also, Teknokliniks, expert consultation events, were conducted. Active engagements of key school officials and other members of the teaching faculty were done to solicit support for the Campaign. Support of these key officials was central to the success of the Campaign. Other edutainment (educate and entertain) activities were also conducted as part of the Campaign. Students’ learnings were gauged through the conduct of quiz bee framed theoretically and practically. Poster-and film-making contests were conducted to tap other individuals, especially those in the urban areas, to be indirectly involved in agriculture. Thesis grants were given to partner-teachers who wanted to assess the impact of the Campaign in their community. There were three strategies in monitoring the progress of the implementation. A closed Facebook group was set up so the students and the teachers can share their strategies in implementing campaign-related initiatives. This did not only serve as a monitoring scheme, but also provided an avenue for the partner-schools to share their best-fit practices that others can replicate. The messages sent by the students and teachers were also monitored through the PTC. The Campaign team analyzed (when necessary) the text messages, on the other hand, sent messages occasionally to the students through crowdsourcing. The posts of the participating teachers in the FB group and the messages sent by the students and teachers in the PTC were also regularly reviewed to select the sites to be visited. During on-site visits, interesting cases were documented for further inquiry. For call rounds, the team regularly called the participating teachers to ask about their project-related activities. News blogs were also published both in the CCAFS and Infomediary Campaign websites. This Project was also promoted in several national events in the Philippines. The funds in the implementation of the Infomediary Campaign came from PhilRice (2012-2016), DA- Regional Field Offices in Central Mindanao and Central Luzon (2012), CGIAR-CCAFS (2013-2016), and the DA-Bureau of Agricultural Research - for some of the campaign’s collaterals (Youth & Agriculture book). From 2012-2016, total budget was USD 211,000.

 7. Who were the stakeholders involved in the design of the initiative and in its implementation?
The Project lead designed the whole project. It took off from his master’s thesis from the University of Queensland in Australia. Some inputs were also drawn from his earlier study at PhilRice on E-readiness assessment of five top rice-producing provinces of the Philippines. In that study, it was documented that farmers knowledge on use of ICTs on farming was not very high; hence, they wanted their children to teach them how to use computers. From that research, he continued on by inquiring on possible ways of engagements of young people in agriculture in his master’s thesis. Upon his return to PhilRice, the project lead, as part of his re-entry action plan proposed to do the Infomediary Campaign.

 8. What were the most successful outputs and why was the initiative effective?
In its role to advance the SDG on zero hunger, the following outputs were realized: - As a result of engaging high school students, the Campaign, since 2012, had responded to more than 12,000 SMSs from students (infomediaries) on rice varieties, price of palay, nutrient management, climate change, pest management, and other rice production-related concerns. In 2014 and in 2015, in the monitoring report, 80-90% of the students engaged in this Campaign shared the information they gathered to farmers in their respective communities. - In some of the participating schools, students served as resource persons during field days discussing to farmers what they did in their rice gardens - The Campaign trained 225 teachers on cost-reducing and yield-enhancing technologies on rice farming, and that some of them have already conducted several outreach activities in their rice-farming communities. Some were even invited to serve as resource persons in training programs on rice in their respective provinces. - The Campaign with over 200 participating schools located in different provinces across the country have managed to reach remote rice-farming communities; some of them located in the top 12 (sometimes top 14) poorest provinces in the country according to the National Statistical and Coordination Board - Instances of adoption of cost-reducing and yield-enhancing technologies have already been noted in some of the participating schools and their surrounding communities. Some of these technologies are the use of high-quality seeds, biological control agents, and controlled irrigation. Meanwhile, the advancement of the SDG on climate action came with the following outputs: - A Memorandum was released by DepEd, asking the teachers who have undergone the training to re-echo and integrate their learnings into their respective curriculum. These are backed by the teaching modules on Rice Production, Climate Change 101 and Climate-smart agriculture (discusses adaptation and mitigation options to climate change in the agriculture sector). More than 60% of the participating teachers were able to integrate the lessons from the trainings into their curriculum. - The Campaign team was able to produce two journal articles published in the Asian Journal of Agriculture and Development and the SpringerPlus. These articles discussed the Infomediary Campaign model, a mechanism on how the student-infomediaries can serve as effective information providers of climate-smart rice agriculture in their own rural farming communities.

 9. What were the main obstacles encountered and how were they overcome?
Meager resources. The Campaign started with USD 6000; hence, it was difficult to deliver at some point. The Team had to do plenty of negotiations with suppliers to bring down the cost of services/goods; allocated much of the money for capacity enhancement as the chance was high that that would yield handsome results; and worked with like-minded people at PhilRice especially the resource persons in the training programs. Proposals were diligently crafted to attract funding from other agencies. Poor internet connectivity. Internet connectivity was a huge challenge both in conducting the training and implementing the Surf component of the Campaign. Added to this was the “ICT anxiety” or the feeling of discomfort when infront of the computer, which was prevalent in the campaign sites. The offline version of the PinoyRice and the production of reading materials were effective means to counter the problem. Likewise, more exposure to ICTs was given to participants to overcome the issue on ICT anxiety—an advice from the literature, which we found to have worked in our context. Petty issues in participating schools. As a solution, the team conducted multilogues with the concerned parties, focus group discussions, and also served as external mediators to fix the differences inside the school. Mismatch in specializations of the training participants. During the first year of training, some teachers did not specialize in agriculture; thus, they found it difficult to understand the modules. It was also not good for the Campaign given that the intention was to really invest on people who would play significant roles on the ground. A letter to DepEd reiterating the criteria in sending the participants for training was sent. The issue was addressed in the second wave of training programs. Poor understanding of the goals of the Campaign. While many would say that the Campaign was innovative, it did not always translated to funding. It was not always in the list of priorities of the Institute. Several dialogues and presentations were done to address this.

D. Impact and Sustainability

 10. What were the key benefits resulting from this initiative?
Key impacts of this initiative gravitate around facilitating access to information on cost-reducing and yield-enhancing technologies on rice. One good case is on PalayCheck, which is the banner program of PhilRice on favorable environments. It basically sums up into eight key checks the technologies and practices farmers must take note of to achieve optimum rice yield. PalayCheck, at some point, has reached the tipping point of awareness in Nueva Ecija, which is the top rice-producing province in the Philippines. On the contrary, PalayCheck was unheard of in many sites of the Infomediary Campaign until the Team introduced it to them. People from remote communities usually find it unattractive to go to commercial centers just so they could access information. The cost usually is almost USD 2, which is already a big amount among poor households in the Philippines. As a consequence, these people would no longer access these technologies, resulting in low yield and denying them of the chance to improve their income and quality of life. In the cost comparisons that the Team did, the Infomediary Options (eg. Use of PTC and the reading materials which are in the host school) were 37.5% cheaper than the conventional ones (eg. Going to commercial centers to access information). This is aside from the convenience offered by texting and the interaction with the teachers, who are locals in their area. Data from cost comparisons were derived from focus group discussions with farmers, school teachers, principals, and students themselves during the monitoring activities. Access to information certainly was a game changer as awareness of a certain technology is the first step to using it. People must first be aware that something exists before they decide to use it or not. The rice garden in our participating schools had always attracted farmers to try using high-quality seeds as opposed to the regular seeds as the former promises 10-15% yield advantage. These cases were documented in Cagayan, Albay, Occidental Mindoro and many other sites. Another key impact of this Campaign, which is related to accessing information, is that it invited participation of young people in agricultural development. It is widely documented at the global scale that young people are generally not interested to farm or to be connected in agriculture in any way. The data of the Campaign showing more than 12,000 text messages from high school students (infomediaries) can very easily deny that. In the PhilRice Text Center, messages are coded and there is a separate coding for infomediaries. All of their messages are kept in a database so they are available for content analysis as necessary. Looking closely at the messages that they sent, one can see a high sense of information activism. Young people showed that they wanted information on integrated pest management, on climate change, on the price of paddy, on how to increase their rice yield in general. Their information-seeking behavior shows high level of participation. These active participation of young people in serving as infomediaries were already reported by the team in international refereed journals. A book about the Campaign is also available.

 11. Did the initiative improve integrity and/or accountability in public service? (If applicable)
It has improved integrity in the delivery of government service in the sense that the people reached by this project knew the easy and cost-effective ways of accessing information. The use of the PhilRice Text Center can very easily show this. For instance, there had been messages in the past verifying claims on the authenticity of high quality seeds that were available in their area. The Text Center also serves as an avenue for inquiring on seed availability in the branch stations of PhilRice. Likewise, the teachers trained under the Campaign also served as mediators in accessing information on where to buy high quality seeds and many others.

 12. Were special measures put in place to ensure that the initiative benefits women and girls and improves the situation of the poorest and most vulnerable? (If applicable)
During the conduct of the Campaign, equal opportunities were given to women and girls. Women agriculture teachers were accepted to take part in the training as an education expert. They did not only participate in the lectures but were also given a chance to join in field activities that require operating farm machines and equipment. Their capabilities to lead the Infomediary Campaign and establish a rice garden were also noted. In fact, some of the best school implementers that were recognized in the years 2015 and 2016 were led by women teacher-partners of the Campaign. Also, female high school students were not put aside during the course of the Infomediary Campaign implementation in the school. Their number was comparable to the male student-infomediaries. They were also given a chance to join in field activities that required labor, from planting to harvesting. In schools where most of the participants were males, the Team discussed the gender issues with the school officials. Importance of having at least 30% of the participants as females was emphasized in discussions with key school officials and in national forum sponsored by the Department of Education.

Contact Information

Institution Name:   Philippine Rice Research Institute
Institution Type:   Public Agency  
Contact Person:   Jaime IV Manalo
Title:   Sr. SRS  
Telephone/ Fax:   (+63) 044-456-0258 loc 500
Institution's / Project's Website:  
Address:   Maligaya
Postal Code:   3119
City:   Science City of Munoz
State/Province:   Nueva Ecija

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