Philippine Daily Inquirer, Mar. 15, 2006
Aurora closes info gap
By Tonette Orejas Inquirer
NO mountains like the overgrown Sierra Madre ranges are high and far enough to keep the power of information technology away from the reach of more than 13,000 farmers and fishermen in Baler, Aurora. Fringed by a horseshoe-shaped valley and the coast of the Pacific Ocean, the capital town of Aurora, 270 km northeast of Metro Manila, is being equipped to become the country's first digital village.
"By May, we're ready to move in for that pioneering enterprise," Sen. Edgardo Angara, the project's Baler-born proponent, told the Inquirer on Saturday.
This week, Angara said he would start the series of meetings with the other stakeholders: technology producers, like Smart Communications and Samsung, the Department of Transportation and Communications, the University of the Philippines' College of Engineering, and the Development Academy of the Philippines.
"What we're trying to do is continue to bring the expertise to and support for Aurora," he said.
Angara has pooled an initial capital of P20 million to jump-start the project.
The heart of the digital village is going to beat in the nipa palm-ringed Barangay Buhangin. The former submarine cable center of Philippine Long Distance Telephone Co. there, which covers five hectares, will house the facilities and the training center that will help farmers get the information they need to improve agricultural production and marketing.
How will the weather be like in the next five days? How much does a 50-kg sack of fertilizer or animal feed cost at current prices? What are the selling price of coconut, copra, coffee or palay, fish, shrimps, livestock in the market? To whom do we sell at best prices?
The answers, said Angara, would be within easy reach of rural folk through the Internet. The access seeks to close the information gap.
"Lack of information leads to low productivity," Angara, a former agriculture secretary, said. He said the project would hopefully protect agricultural producers from unscrupulous traders.
Since phone connections are direly limited, Smart is being tapped to set up VSST (very small satellite telephones). Samsung, on the other, could install the computers.
Helping agricultural producers master the new technology is, of course, another matter. Angara is confident that they can adapt like their counterparts in India where digital villages are revolutionizing the sector.
"They can do it," he said, citing the experiences of farmers he encountered during a recent visit to Bangalore.
Angara said the project would pave the way for "genuine empowerment." Many of them, he said, were illiterate and became rich by adopting modern technology. Brazilian farmers, he said, have also joined the digital age.