Harnessing the full potentials of family farms and promoting digital or precision agriculture are among the priorities of the Department of Agriculture under the “new normal” to attain its twin objectives of reducing poverty and achieving food security amid the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic.

“It is important that we continuously empower vulnerable groups — smallholder farmers, fisherfolk, rural women, the youth, indigenous communities, and farm families, in general – by providing them the needed technical, marketing and financial support, amid the COVID-19 pandemic,” said agriculture Secretary William Dar, during the first-ever virtual meeting of the 35th United Nations’ Food and Agriculture Organization (UN-FAO) Regional Conference for Asia and the Pacific (APRC35) held recently.

“Now, more than ever, we should reinforce this by teaching farm families to take advantage of data-driven or digital agriculture to further increase their productivity and incomes” added Dar, who was elected vice-chair of the FAO-APRC35 ministerial conference, hosted by the Kingdom of Bhutan.

The biennial conference was attended by representatives from 41 member-nations, with observers from other UN agencies, international and inter-governmental organizations, civil society, and private sector.

In his message, the agriculture also thanked the FAO and the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD) for leading the implementation of the UN Decade of Family Farming (UNDFF), which commenced in 2019 and ends in 2028.

The UNDFF recognizes and supports the major contribution of family and smallholder farming in eradicating poverty and hunger, achieving food security, and improving nutrition through sustainable food production and countryside development.

“Smallholders and family farmers produce over 80% of the world’s food in value terms, and play a vital role in achieving food security and improving nutrition.”

“Smallholders and family farmers deserve the focus in FAO discussions and programs, as they produce over 80 percent of the world’s food in value terms, and play a vital role in achieving food security and improving nutrition,” the agriculture head said.

“We are grateful to all partners and stakeholders actively advocating for family farmers’ welfare and interests and their critical role in achieving the Agenda 2030 Sustainable Development Goals,” he added.

The UNDFF is an offshoot of a UN policy, declaring 2014 as the “International Year of Family Farming” or IYFF. The Philippines filed the IYFF resolution in 2011 before the FAO, which endorsed it to the UN general assembly. With the Philippines as co-sponsor, the “decade of family farming” was officially declared by the UN in 2017.

The UN-FAO has to date 194 member-countries. The UN-FAO regional conferences serve as a venue to discuss respective government policies and priorities that address major regional and global concerns, like coping with and surmounting the challenges of the COVID-19 pandemic, and regional trade and investments.

On promoting precision agriculture and digital technology, Dar said the DA is fast-tracking the development of a digital roadmap for the agri-fishery sector.

“We aim to integrate digital technologies in the food value chain and logistics.”

“We aim to integrate digital technologies in the food value chain and logistics, benefiting both producers and consumers, including real-time access to ICT-driven crop production, and risk and damage assessment information with the use of drones and dynamic cropping calendar,” Dar said.

Recently, the DA-ICTS installed a “dashboard” at the office of the secretary (OSEC), where real-time and updated information is flashed on the screen, like farmers’ registry, farm machinery distributed, and farm-to-market roads constructed, among other infrastructure and major DA initiatives. These form part of Secretary Dar’s “finger-tip” information that is updated daily.

Likewise, the DA’s Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources (BFAR) manages an ICT data inventory and mapping system to enhance its data collection system.

The DA is also pursuing partnerships with the private sector, civil society, and international research institutions to digitalize Philippine agriculture.

Finally, he also cited the case of “IT giant” Microsoft that partnered with the International Crops Research Institute for the Semi-Arid Tropics (ICRISAT) in India, which he led for 15 years, from 2000 to 2014.

Microsoft and ICRISAT developed an IT sowing app that enables smallholder subsistence farmers to receive precision agro-advisories based on the weather and other parameters.


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