BUGUIAS, BENGUET. “Improving agricultural productivity and food security of small farmers and farming communities through improving their access to relevant information, data and technology” is the overarching aim of ASSIST’s AGROMET project. ASSIST, which stands for Asia Society for Social Improvement and Sustainable Transformation, was able to avail of a funding support from the German Development Bank. This project is intended for areas with “weather sensitive high value crops” such as highland vegetables. According to ASSIST Chief Operations Officer Joseph Arnel Go, they first met and consulted with the Agricultural Training Institute Central Office (ATI-CO) in their search for feasible project recipients for highland vegetables, they were then recommended to visit the province of Benguet.

Mr. Go, together with Mr. Lukas Riek, Senior Associate Development and Projects of ASSIST arrived at the ATI-Cordillera Administrative Region (ATI-CAR) on January 31, 2017. The ASSIST team paid a courtesy visit to ATI-CAR Training Center Director Arlene L. Flores and then oriented the ATI-CAR staff regarding the project. According to Mr. Riek, the ASSIST is proposing for the “setting up of a network of agrometrological (AGROMET) measuring stations to provide detailed and localized weather and soil data in Benguet.” Mr. Go added that there will be 80 AGROMET stations, each can cover a maximum of 500 hectares, that will compose the network. Mr. Riek also informed the group that the AGROMET station, which is actually called METOS by its manufacturer, was developed by Pessl, a company based in Austria that specializes in the development of measuring instruments.

The METOS employs a monitoring system that collects, stores, processes and directly transfers data to a password protected platform via the internet. Alternatively, the data can also be sent via radio, telephone line, Global System for Mobile communication (GSM), an infrared port or through Bluetooth to a computer or any other data carrier. Through the METOS, farmers can access real-time data on weather forecast, soil-moisture, air quality, density of insects and other relevant data via their cellphones. He further elaborated that data collected from the farms, combined with weather forecast can help farmers make the right farming decisions at the right time, that is, to make informed decisions about which steps or actions will they take next to ensure the best quality and quantity of their produce.

The next day the ASSIST team, together with Mr. Bongbong L. Buli-e and Engr. Randy T. Soriano of the ATI-CAR, proceeded to the municipality of Buguias for a pre-assessment activity. The ASSIST earlier requested for the assistance of the ATI-CAR in the conduct of the pre-assessment activity to initially determine the technical and social feasibility of the project. The ATI-CAR, upon the request of ATI-CO, earlier recommended the municipalities along the Halsema highway such as Tublay, Atok, Kibungan, Buguias, Bakun, Mankayan and Bauko where the major production areas of highland vegetables are located. The ASSIST team through the recommendation of ATI-CO and based on the information submitted by the ATI-CAR, choose the municipality of Buguias as the initial pilot area for the project. The ASSIST team noted that the areas with the highest amount of production inputs, such as pesticides and fertilizers, is preferred as the pilot area because the project also aims to measure its impact by decreasing the amount of inputs used by the farmers.

The ATI-CAR and ASSIST team first met with the officials from the Office of the Municipal Mayor and the Municipal Agriculture Office of Buguias, who also invited farmer leaders, at the Buguias municipal hall in Abatan, Buguias, Benguet. The ASSIST team then delivered a briefing about the project and solicited the permission and commitment of the municipality for the project. Mr. Delfin D. Rufino, Municipal Agricultural Officer of Buguias also gave a briefing on the Municipality’s agricultural profile where he highlighted that Buguias has a total land area of 17,585 hectares, 11,000 hectares of which is classified as agricultural land. Mayor Reuben L. Tinda-an through his Executive Assistant Ms. Elma L. Andres assured the team of the Municipality’s support to the project. The Mayor earlier tasked Mr. Rufino, the Municipal Agriculture Office and the farmer leaders to provide whatever information or other assistance the team might need during their visit to the Municipality.

After the briefing, the team was escorted by Ms. Valentina A. Camsol of the Municipal Agriculture Office to the barangays of Bangao and Lengaoan for an ocular inspection of production areas and testing of communication network connectivity. The ASIST team found out that the network connectivity in the sample areas is sufficient to support the requirements of the project. Moreover, the possibility of expanding the AGROMET network to the production areas of neighboring municipalities is also being considered. The ASSIST team will be back in Benguet for a focus group discussion with the project stakeholders sometimes in February.

The ASSIST is an international non-government organization focused on capacity building. It seeks to promote sustainable practices to address social problems in the developing world, with focus on Asia and Africa. It is presently based in Makati City but also operates in India and Vietnam and manages projects in over 10 countries. Through its “partner to progress” philosophy, it has successfully implemented such projects in collaboration with the European Union, United Nation Environment Program (UNEP), United Nations Industrial Development Organization (UNIDO), USAID, International Finance Corporation (IFC), GIZ and DEG/ KFW amongst other organizations.