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 A Glimpse of the 2020 PhilEASNet Webinar

Andrew D. Gasmen, PhD

PhilEASNet Adviser

 

 

The Philippine Extension and Advisory Services Network Inc. (PhilEASNet) has conducted a webinar on September 30, 2020 with the theme “Recalibrating Extension and Advisory Services for the New Normal”. A total of 389 extension professionals and practitioners from national government agencies, local government units, state universities and colleges, private higher education institutes and other private organizations from all over the country attended the free webinar.

The event was conceptualized to address the new challenges faced by extension service providers in the delivery of extension and advisory services (EAS) in the midst of COVID-19 pandemic. Safety protocols enforced by authorities to contain the spread of coronavirus have generally limited the movement of people, including the mobility of extension workers. This has greatly affected the delivery of extension services which heavily relies on face to face advisory services and interactive educational interventions.

 

With this backdrop, this webinar was organized to update the participants – who are mostly members of PhilEASNet – on the challenges brought by the pandemic, and to share some current initiatives on how to cope and adapt to the present health crisis.  It was structured following three questions, where three notable resource persons were invited – each to tackle one of the questions.

 

The program commenced with the opening remarks of Dr. Eric Palacpac, PhilEASNet President, who also welcomed the participants of the event. He laid the background and objectives of the webinar, which he said is conducted for the very first time in lieu of the regular annual extension symposium for this year that has been cancelled due to the pandemic.

 

 

PhilEASNet President Dr. Eric Palacpac welcoming the webinar participants

 

 

Responding to this question was Dr. Arlene L. Flores, Center Director of the Agricultural Training Institute of the Cordillera Administrative Region (ATI-CAR) and PhilEASNet's Vice President for Luzon. Dr. Flores presented the topic: “Relay Coaching, Boundary-to-Boundary Extension: Crossing Communities in Lockdown,” where she discussed two innovative extension strategies conceived and implemented by ATI-CAR. Relay coaching and boundary-to-boundary relay extension were conceptualized as alternative methods to deliver extension services especially in areas where there is no internet connectivity.

 

Relay coaching is a modified coaching technique conducted in either face-to-face or alternatively texts or mobile phone calls among groups of 15-20 persons. ATI-CAR initially identifies field coaches from among the LGU extension workers and learning sites and schools for practical agriculture operators, respectively. These are highly trained extension personnel who first receive coaching on government programs under the new normal. They in turn coach their clientele in the area: farmers, women, youth and community. This coaching technique was successfully carried out in the delivery of technologies and agricultural support packages on urban agriculture.

 

Boundary-to-boundary relay extension, on the other hand, is a strategy used during lockdown of communities. Lockdowns prevented field coaches from reaching the farmers as they could not cross political boundaries. Thus, ATI-CAR personnel had to meet with field coaches in provincial or municipal political boundaries where coaching is done and agricultural support packages are delivered. Multiple relay happens when delivery of extension services passes through several municipal boundaries where coaching takes place from one municipality to the next with different groups of extension workers before reaching the ultimate beneficiaries.

 

It can be said that both extension strategies pose risks to extension workers as these require travel and face to face meetings. The efforts of ATI-CAR illustrate the innovative and self-sacrificing spirit of extension workers risking themselves for the sake of ensuring food security. Moreover, this case shows that extension workers can also be called frontliners in the fight against COVID-19.

 

 

Dr. Arlene Flores explaining how boundary-to-boundary relay is carried out

 

 

Dr. Rex L. Navarro of the Coalition for Agricultural Modernization of the Philippines (CAMP) dealt with this question by discussing the Province-led Agriculture and Fisheries Extension System (PAFES) initiative of the Department of Agriculture. PAFES is conceptualized as an organizational innovation that aims to address the long-time structural weaknesses of the country's extension system that suffered when extension was devolved.

 

PAFES espouses the idea that the province is a better unit of operations of extension services because they have better economies of scale compared to the present local extension system where cities and municipalities are too small for extension to operate. It also proposes the effective collaboration of the national government and the provinces with respect to sharing of resources and the operation of agencies and institutions involved in the provision of extension services. PAFES draws lessons from successful extension systems of neighboring countries, such as Vietnam, Japan, India and China.

Dr. Navarro informed that the present DA leadership considers the establishment and institutionalization of PAFES as one of its important legacy. It visualizes its use in massive technology utilization – an idea that is perceived to be the engine of agriculture modernization. The first PAFES was established in Ilocos Norte in February this year through a Memorandum of Agreement forged by stakeholders. DA aims for its establishment in 15 provinces by the end of 2022, and subsequently in all provinces nationwide in the succeeding years.

 

 

Establishment of Ilocos Norte Agriculture and Fisheries Extension System, the

first PAFES in the Philippines (picture taken from the presentation of Dr. Navarro)

 

It must be recalled that the present DA initiative to establish PAFES is an offshoot of previous policy initiatives of PhilEASNet in partnership with the Agricultural Training Institute, Philippine Rice Research Institute, International Rice Research Institute and CAMP through series of extension policy symposia and consultations.

 

 

Ms. Alma Karina "Kankan" Ramos of Invictus PH discussed some principles in rebranding and recalibrating extension strategies and services using digital platforms to cope with the new normal or reality. In her presentation, she talked about the digital world that must be embraced as a "new world" forcibly brought by COVID-19 pandemic. This period can be the time to reboot by abandoning things that did not and no longer work, and innovating on things that work better.