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How ICTs Can Help the Agricultural Sector in the Philippines

Currently, agriculture in the Philippines is a neglected sector in terms of research, investments and development...




Almost two decades after Dr. Alexander G. Flor wrote the paper titled The Proactive Society for the DEV COM Quarterly and  that on The Future of Communication Educators in the Information Society for the Philippine Association of Communication Education (PACE) conference in 1983, significant changes have occurred in the Philippines.  These changes have shaped the productivity of both the agriculture and the services sector of the economy.  This critique aims to explore the current scenario and how the Information and Communication Technologies (ICTs) have become the driving force in the expansion of the services sector of the Philippine economy.

The Decline in the Philippine Agricultural Sector
The Philippines was once an important agricultural country.  In the period between the 70s and the 90s, the Philippines was considered a model to imitate by other developing countries, mainly because of its impressive agricultural development and productivity [1].
The UP Los Banos (UPLB) did a great job in boosting the agricultural sector, which then accounted for an average of 25.1 percent of the country’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP) [2].  The institution was seen as a model for agricultural research and education.  At that time, scholars from neighboring countries came to study at the UPLB  to have a grasp of agricultural success stories that they can, in turn, employ in their respective countries [3].
Currently, agriculture in the Philippines is a neglected sector in terms of research, investments and development, and, as such, the agricultural education system reflects that condition.  In a paper written by Dr. Pablito P. Pamplona, he affirmed that the agricultural education system failed to implement critical strategic measures to maintain its leadership in agriculture.”  Thus, the Philippines is no longer the source of modern knowledge and strategies [4]
Agriculture still plays a vital role in the Philippine economy.  About 41 percent of the total land area in the Philippines is considered agricultural land.  The World Bank data revealed that the agricultural sector employed 47 percent of the Filipino workforce in 2013.  Furthermore, the industry accounted for 12 percent of the Philippine GDP in 2013  [5].  The general trend in the last two decades is discouraging.  A considerable drop in productivity, high-production expenditures and low-government support have given rise to a crisis in the sector [6].
The Philippines ranks as the 8th largest rice producer in the world, accounting for about 2.8 percent of the global rice production.  Yet, the country was also the world’s largest rice importer in 2010 [7].  This means that the country’s own rice production barely meets its domestic demand, so nothing is left for exportation.
Due to the failure of the Philippines to renovate its agricultural techniques, to think and act ahead, and institute effective strategies for the growing constraints and drivers of modern times, the Philippines has been overtaken by countries like Vietnam, Indonesia, and Thailand in terms of farm productivity and agricultural exportation.  The decline in the agricultural sector has exacerbated the poverty situation in the rural areas, populated by about 55,033,870 people [8].

ICTs and the Rise of the Services Sector
            The rapid development and use of the ICTs is having an enormous impact in all dimensions of human life.  As the Philippines evolves into an information society, the traditional conception of telecommunications, media and information services are now vague and indistinct, converging into one and unique reality. Modern perspectives with regards to knowledge acquisition, access to information and labor and market opportunities are always sprouting, following the ascend of new and dynamic technologies and innovations.
            The ICTs are revolutionizing the labor market, providing work opportunities that are inclusive, elastic and even global in nature,  Due to greater connectivity and the digitalization of some aspects of the business process, the Business Process Outsourcing (BPO) has become a thriving industry in the Philippines, employing some 1.03 million Filipinos in year 2014 [9]
The BPO is a type of outsourcing that involves the contracting of some operations and responsibilities of a particular business process to a 3rd party service provider [10].  Most often, the business process being outsourced is technology based.  The contact center area is still the prevailing revenue supplier.  However, Filipinos employed in the BPO industry are also involved in legal and medical transcriptions, finance, logistics and accounting, and software development and animation. 
According to Chair Danilo Sebastian L. Reyes of the IT and Business Process Association of the Philippines (IBPAP), as cited by Amy R. Remo (Philippine Daily Inquirer), the Philippines is considered the top destination for the IT-BPO firms because of the country’s professional and skilled human resources, proven track record and cost-competitiveness [11].
The expansion in the services sector of the Philippine economy during the past decade has been largely influenced by the rapid growth in the BPO industry.  The services sector accounted for 57.5 percent of the country’s GDP in 2014 (World Bank, 2015).

The Digital Divide in The Philippines
            With the Philippines at the center of the attention of the world for its leadership in the BPO industry and as the 5th fastest growing e-commerce usage globally [12], the actual condition of the Philippine Internet is not that good.  Internet connection is slow and untrustworthy, even problematic at times, possibly due to so many persons connected at the same time to the network.
            Based on the 2010 data from the International Telecommunication Union (ITU), a United Nations agency responsible for the ICTs. The Philippine ICT Development Index (IDI) score is a scanty 3.22, compared to 8.85 of South Korea, 8.22 of Japan, and 7.90 of Singapore. The IDI is a combination of indicators employed to compare the overall level of ICT development between countries.  
The Philippines is still lagging in terms of Internet penetration and connectivity.  Only 39 percent of the population have Internet access, while more than 60 percent of Filipinos are deprived of access to the web.  The substantial disparity in Internet access leads to a digital divide that may impede not only access to information and new technologies but also access to available employment opportunities in the expanding information society [13]. The relatively feeble development of ICT services in some areas of the country is  due to the lack or inadequate ICT infrastructures and lack of financial resources needed for its expansion.  

Conclusion
            The rise of the ICTs is without doubt an important driving force behind the growth of the Philippine economy.  The expansion in the BPO industry is  an indication that the Filipinos have been able to understand the needs of the times and have been able to harness the ICTs power to create job opportunities  that are inclusive, flexible and fairly remunerative for a considerable part of the total working force of the country.
Yet, the decline in the agricultural sector continues to be one of the most pressing concerns that the Philippines should address without delay.  This is because low farm productivity is one of the reasons why the poverty level in the country remains high, compared to that of its neighboring countries. 
The Aquino administration’s 2015 Agriculture Development Program aimed to tackle the various challenges facing the agricultural sector.  With the P 86.1 billion (pesos)  allotted for the program, the government wanted to increase the productivity of the agriculture and fisheries sector by: (1) irrigating more agricultural lands, (2) by providing buffer stocking for eventual shortages, (3) by providing credit for farmers and fisher folks, (4) and by encouraging research and development for agriculture.  A holistic approach that was bent to find the path for rice self-sufficiency and food security for the growing population [14].
A proactive society means a society that is capable of thinking and acting in anticipation of events.  This means using foresight, understanding and harnessing the opportunities that may arise from any given occasion.  Furthermore, a proactive society means one that is composed of people capable of initiating action and of bringing creative and resourceful ideas in line with the demands of time.  For this reason, I think that it is likewise imperative for the Philippines to heavily invest in ICT infrastructures to enhance agricultural and rural development.
ICTs may provide valuable help with regards to the communication processes involved all throughout the diverse phases of the agriculture industry, from crop cultivation, food storage and food marketing.  Accurate information and knowledge is a must in the gathering of data, conceptualizing, and implementing innovative strategies in the agricultural procedures, in sharing these to farmers, and in organizing a joint plan of action within the communities and among communities.  Harnessing the power of ICTs is one of the ways to  proactively address the challenges and opportunities that are arising from modern agriculture in the quest to boost productivity and rural prosperity.  

 References:
.  [1], [3], [4]  Pamplona, Pablito P.  Philippine agriculture and the high incidence of poverty and unemployment (2013, August 5).  Retrieved from http://ppdci.org/?p=537
.  [2], [8]  The World Bank Indicators (2015).  Retrieved from http://data.worldbank.org/indicator?display=default
.  [5], [7]  Agriculture in the Philippines (2015).  Retrieved from https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Agriculture_in_the_Philippines
.  [6]   Fact sheet Philippines:  Women in agriculture, environment and rural production  (n.a.).  Retrieved from http://www.fao.org/docrep/008/ae946e/ae946e03.htm
.  [9]  ICTs are creating new jobs and making the labor market more innovative, inclusive and global  (2013, Sept. 10).  Retrieved from http://www.worldbank.org/en/news/press-release/2013/09/10/icts-are-creating-new-jobs-and-making-labor-markets-more-innovative-inclusive-and-global-world-bank-study
.  [10]   Business Process Outsourcing in the Philippines  (2015).  Retrieved from https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Business_process_outsourcing_in_the_Philippines
.  [11]  Remo, A. R. (2015, March 19).  IT-BPO sector posted 18.7 %  revenue growth in 2014.  Retrieved from http://business.inquirer.net/188861/it-bpo-sector-posted-18-7-revenue-growth-in-2014
.  [12]  Rights and freedom: Bridging the digital divide  (2015, March 30).  Retrieved from http://www.businessmirror.com.ph/rights-and-freedom-bridging-the-digital-divide/
.  [13]  Albert. JR. G & Gaspar, R. E. (2015, April 22).  What do ICT stats say about the Philippines.  Retrieved from http://www.rappler.com/thought-leaders/90584-ict-statistics-philippines
.  [14]  Ranada, P.  (2014,  August  5).  Aquino’s 2015 agri-budget: What’s in it, what’s missing.  Retrieved from http://www.rappler.com/move-ph/issues/budget-watch/65227-aquino-2015-agriculture-budget





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