By Tandin Wangchuk
The Ministry of Agriculture and Forests, or the RNR Sector, is the largest platform for employment in the country. Of late, the ministry has also made significant progress in advancing its IT-related developments.
One of the chief mandates of MoAF is putting up the best efforts towards informing farmers on new technologies and research results to provide them better livelihood opportunities.
The ministry states that with technological advancement, ICT is picking up in the country playing a key role in development and information dissemination.
ICTD as an ICT service provider for the Ministry is also striving to ensure timely service delivery through locally appropriate, affordable and sustainable ICT infrastructure, tools and applications.
However, with the COVID19 pandemic situation, the service delivery has become a big challenge for the ministry nonetheless significant progresses were made in the past one year.
The ministry states that during the COVID19 lockdown, ICTD played a crucial role in RNR service delivery particularly in disseminating information virtually.
One such example, according to MoAF, is the 6th Royal Bhutan Flower Exibition (RBFE) which was held virtually in August last year amid the pandemic situation.
However, it is stated that the challenges lie in delivering the timely services due to budget constraints, lack of equipment, limited collaboration with stakeholders and staff shortage.
Nonetheless with the development of the RNR Sectoral Communication Strategy, the role of ICTD is expected to be enhanced and strengthen the collaboration with relevant stakeholders for better service delivery.
The Information and Communication Technology (ICT) Section under the division is mandated to facilitate and provide IT services to the Ministry. The section is responsible for designing, developing and maintaining ICT applications and infrastructure.
Besides, the section is responsible for ensuring all ICT systems meet the standards and requirements specified by the Department of Information Technology and Telecom (DITT) as per the e-Government Interoperability Framework (e-GIF) under the e-GOV initiative.
The section also serves as the focal agency for all ICT related activities within the ministry and beyond.
In the past one year, 2020-2021, the ICT section had carried out a major revamp of the Ministry’s Local Area Network (LAN).
The network backbone was upgraded from UTP to Optic Fibre which enables network reliability and speed. The access switches and WiFi Access Point were upgraded from conventional (unmanageable) to manageable devices which enabled us to create an environment for integrating the devices with the management software.
MoAf stated that all the network devices can be managed through a single web interface with the downtime notification alert system.
The network automation, network planning, analysis, design and implementation was executed in the third quarter (14 March 2021) of the financial year 2020-2021. The ICT section of the ministry also assisted and provided network revamp for offices outside the Ministry premises.
One of the new technologies adopted by MoAf is the Spatial Decision Support System (SDSS). SDSS is spatially-enabled knowledge base and decision support system to support the Department of Forests and Park Services (DoFPS) for issuing forestry clearance in Bhutan.
MoaF states that the spatial-enabled knowledge is a base for data sharing within the DoFPS for different levels of spatial analysis and research. The system also integrates a database management system with analytical models using expert knowledge where analysis and results could be viewed through graphical display.
In addition, BAFRA’s Laboratory Information Management System Bhutan Agriculture and Food Regulatory Authority (BAFRA) had developed the Laboratory Information Management System (LIMS).
This system will enable in providing proficient laboratory testing services for food and agricultural products for compliance against the national and international standards to ensure food safety and quality throughout the food chain.
Among other significant developments, the Bhutan Biosecurity and Food Safety System (BBFSS) was developed by the ministry to improve service delivery to the food business operators, importers, exporters and relevant stakeholders and increase end user productivity.
The system will also facilitate effective intervention to plant and animal biosecurity and food safety issues through improved data sharing, data security, better data integration, minimized data inconsistency, improved data access, improved regulations and monitoring processes thus contributing to effective regulatory decision-making process.
Further, the Veterinary Information System (VIS) is expected to digitize the processes and capture data of individual animals, clinical, sterilization, deworming, and vaccination purposes. It is also used for vaccination and animal health certification, registered pet information and to control disease outbreak among others.
The Online Forestry Services (OFS) is also expected to digitize the processes and capture data to aid in Forest clearance and NWFP collection and movement permit, export permit, import permit, timber permit, fishing permit, research clearance and forest check-post management.
In addition, DoA’s eBOGS Electronic Bhutan Organic Guarantee System (eBOGS) will digitize the process followed in Local Organic Assurance System (LOAS), Incorporate Third Party collaboration with BAFRA and Organic Surveillance Programmes
One of the important achievements of ICTD include the launch of the e-RNR Crop Advisory, the first mobile app in the Ministry targeted to help Bhutanese youths take up farming for their livelihoods.
It was launched on 4 November 2020. ICTD assisted in organising the virtual 6th Royal Bhutan Flower Exhibition which was held from 14-20 August 2020 in Haa.
As one of the important mandates, ICTD maintains the Ministry’s official website, www.moaf.gov.bt which is one of the most active websites in the country. The publications such as the RNR Newsletter, Sanam Drupdrey and RNR Extension Manual serve as a successful medium to disseminate information about the innovative RNR technologies and activities to farmers and the general public.
MOAf states that all ICTD services are highly relevant to various stakeholders and audiences such as researchers, extension staff, development partners, policy makers, teachers and farmers.
The ministry’s ICTD consists of two sections; Communication Section and Information and Communication Technology Section.
Meanwhile, the Publication Unit of the ministry caters to the information and communication requirements of the Ministry. It develops IEC materials and disseminates it through various communication channels (Websites, television, radio, social media etc.) to create better understanding of the RNR activities and farming technologies.
It also liaises with external media firms to raise awareness on various RNR activities. It provides timely news and photo coverage during the RNR events. The news is updated on the Ministry’s website and social media sites (Facebook/Twitter) which also serves as a source of information for many.
The unit serves as a database for the RNR photos which is shared with stakeholders as and when required.
One of the recent achievements of the unit is that it coordinated the development of the RNR-Sectoral Communication Strategy with technical and fund support from the EU.
The strategy was approved during the 119th RNR-GNHC meeting held on 27 April 2020. It further organised two live panel discussions on World Food Day.
In addition, for the first time the e-RNR Crop Advisory was published to create awareness on the e-RNR Crop Advisory, the first mobile app in the Ministry targeted to help Bhutanese youths take up farming for their livelihoods.
And finally the Audio Visual Unit looks after the audio visual activities of the Ministry. The unit plays a key role in developing the videos for the e-RNR Crop Advisory besides covering the important RNR activities such as inauguration/meetings/workshops/ field trips and VIPs visits.
MoAF states the Audio Visual Unit plays a key role in developing the videos for the e-RNR Crop Advisory besides covering the important RNR activities such as inauguration, meetings/workshops, field trips and VIPs visits.