Thursday , 9 December 2021

Info squad infiltrates online farmer groups, delivers answers

Keyboard warriors were unleashed to Facebook in July by an aquaculture development center, not to spread negativity nor troll the comment section but to battle the lack of information among online fish farmer groups.

Ten on-the-job trainees (OJTs) at SEAFDEC/AQD scoured for questions within fish farmer communities on Facebook and researched for answers using SEAFDEC/AQD’s vast repository of digitized publications.

“Fish farmers have formed large online communities on Facebook where they ask questions, share experiences, and sell their products. We wanted to try reaching them there with quality information,” said Rex Delsar Dianala, officer-in-charge of SEAFDEC/AQD’s Development Communication Section tasked with producing and disseminating information materials.

The OJTs, all biology majors of the Pamantasan ng Lungsod ng Maynila (University of the City of Manila) also known as PLM, focused on Philippine farmer groups such as “Tilapia Farming Philippines” which as of writing has 43,800 members, “Freshwater Fish Farming in the Philippines” (38,600 members), “Freshwater prawn {ulang} philippines” (8,200 members), and “Tilapia and Hito Farming” (8.000 members).

Between 5 and 29 July 2021, the OJTs-cum-keyboard-warriors provided at least 320 farmers with answers complete with links to reliable references and downloads from SEAFDEC/AQD, the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), the Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources (BFAR), and others.

Just one of over 300 answers posted by on-the-job trainees at SEAFDEC/AQD in response to questions in fish farmer groups on Facebook.

 

Quality answers, grateful farmers

“We were astounded by the quality of the answers given by the students from PLM,” remarked Edgar Vincent Antolino, the SEAFDEC/AQD training assistant who supervised the OJTs. “They were able to synthesize, customize, and translate answers to Filipino so the farmers can better understand.”

For example, a member posted in one Facebook group asking how many tilapia fingerlings he could stock in his 500 square meter pond.

While one co-member was quick to respond with an offer to supply canvas lining, another commenter outrageously advised to stock 100 thousand and proceeded to state that he had available fingerlings to sell.

Other more helpful members said he should stock “5 pcs per/sq. meter”, another says “2k”, another briefly comments “500 x 5.”

Meanwhile, Genica de Lara, one of the OJTs commissioned by SEAFDEC/AQD to answer questions, comprehensively explains, in Filipino, the difference between the extensive, semi-intensive, and intensive systems and computes the proper number of fish for his 500 square meter pond.

“Extensive: 500–1000 fingerlings, semi-intensive: 1,500–2,000 fingerlings, intensive: 2,500–5,000 fingerlings,” she wrote after emphasizing the importance of proper pond preparation, feeding, and water quality. Then, she gives links to two freely downloadable tilapia manuals published by SEAFDEC/AQD.

One member comments in Filipino on de Lara’s answer, “This is good, coming straight from SEAFDEC in Iloilo.”

In a separate post, another user asked whether tilapa grow significantly faster in either mud or concrete ponds.

Matt Tua Agbulos, another OJT from PLM, explained to him in detail three advantages in using earthen ponds and four advantages of concrete ponds, all in Filipino, and provided three links for additional information.

Another commenter, seeming to mistake Agbulos as an experienced farmer, remarked in FIlipino, “That is the person who cares for others who also wants to take care of tilapia..for both to live and have livelihood..not stingy to share knowledge.”

Searching for answers

Agbulos, like the other OJTs who were all working remotely, are actually just hardworking students that know where to look for answers.

“Researching thoroughly is a must since I only know little about aquaculture. So, by reading e-books, journal articles, and posts from credible and reliable sources, I gained new information. Looking for those sources and cross-checking them though are not easy,” shared Louise Lane Ballesteros, another OJT.

Edline Mae De Guzman, also an OJT, also shared that finding answers online is not so straightforward. “Even if the internet is a rich source of information, there is still a risk of misinformation. Some articles posted lack scientific evidence and could cause problems instead of providing effective mitigation to fish farmers,” she said.

Ysi Lorence Dig, however, finds it easier “With the help of various publications such as technical manuals and field guides, visual guides, and videos from the SEAFDEC/AQD Institutional Repository, access and exchange of information was relatively uncomplicated,” shared Ysi Lorence Dig, another OJT.

Worthwhile, fulfilling

Even as she enjoyed learning herself as she searched for answers, Ballesteros said there were days when answers were tough to find and took a lot of time. “Yet because of the words of thank you’s of those fish farmers I’ve helped with my answers makes it worthwhile,” she added.

“Not only do we learn valuable information ourselves, but we get to share it with the people who can actually make use of the information by applying them,” related Agbulos. “I always looked forward to the responses I would receive from the local fish farmers as they were very grateful.”

“Until now, even though our OJT is over, I still try to answer farmers’ queries as it really is fulfilling,” he added. /RD DIANALA

A screenshot of the answer a SEAFDEC/AQD on-the-job trainee provided to a farmer’s query, as well as reactions from the readers, all happening within a Facebook group of fish farmers.
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