Bernardo M. Villegas
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Inclusive Growth Through Inclusive Business

          I spent some three weeks in the mountains of Bukidnon in July and August of 2017.  I met literally hundreds of business people, government officials (including the Mayor of Cagayan de Oro Oscar Moreno) and members of nongovernmental organizations in several business conferences.    Let me say that the feedback I got from them about martial law was very positive.  Indeed in those three weeks I spent in a residential course in Dahilayan, Manolo Fortich, I confirmed the general consensus among those I met that greater peace and security have been attained in the areas surrounding Marawi City as a result of martial law.

         Among those I met during these conferences was Mr. Roberto W. Ansaldo, a former Undersecretary of Agriculture and a very active agribusiness entrepreneur in Mindanao.  He now heads the Inclusive Business Program of the Cagayan de Oro Chamber of Commerce and Industry Foundation.  I have known Bobby for several decades now, among other reasons because we are both alumni of De La Salle University.  I have always admired him for being the exception to the rule that most people who graduate with a degree in the agricultural sciences (he is also an alumnus of the Xavier University, the foremost agricultural school in Mindanao) do not end up in agriculture.  A good number of them end up working for multinationals like Procter and Gamble selling soap and detergent (which I also tried myself for a short period of my career). But not Bobby.  From a very prominent family in Manila, he decided to reside in Mindanao and be hands on in running agricultural projects.  Before his present job, he was very much involved in coffee farming in the hills of Bukidnon.  He is very passionate about high-value farming (which passion I share with him).

         In a conversation I had with him, together with other top professionals who were with me in the residential course, he opened our eyes to the importance of what he termed “inclusive business.”  I took special interest because of my focus on social entrepreneurship in my research.  As I have explained in previous columns, a social enterprise is a business organized for profit but whose main objective is to contribute to the solution of a major problem of society, other than just producing goods and services or generating employment.  Economists define “inclusive growth” as economic growth, i.e. increase in GDP or GDP per capita, that uplifts the conditions of the poorest members of society.  As Bobby explained to us, inclusive business is one that is directly involved in engaging the poorest members of society as partners of the enterprise either as suppliers or as workers. The example that he gave us of businesses engaging the “bottom of the pyramid in the core business of business” is that of large food manufacturing enterprises creating livelihood opportunities for indigenous communities in Mindanao by helping them to grow high-value crops that they will purchase.

         The project which Bobby heads, supported by a grant from USAID, is sponsored by the CDO Chamber of Commerce and Industry Foundation (OROCHAMBER).  One of CDO’s influence areas is the CDO River Basin which covers key communities in the city, including indigenous peoples, as well as other communities in the adjoining province of Bukidnon.  These indigenous peoples are among the poorest of the poor, as described very vividly in our conversation with him.  When he told us about his visits to the communities of these IPs and the very pitiful conditions in which they live, I modified my usual view that the poorest among the poor in the Philippines are the coconut farmers.  Now, I think that these IPs are even poorer than coconut farmers.  Private business should do everything possible to help projects like the one Bobby is heading to help these IP communities to escape dehumanizing poverty.

         The project involves the promotion of inclusive growth through the production of high-value commercial crops (such as cacao, coffee, papaya) by local communities living within the CDO River Basin.  OROCHAMBER partners private companies with these communities for technical assistance, quality planting materials, assured markets, and transparent pricing.  The project simultaneously addresses the destructive flooding that results from deforestation that got national attention when hundreds of people drowned when the CDO River overflowed because of Typhoon Sendong in 2011.  Instead of planting just any tree variety, Bobby insists that fruit bearing trees should be used for reforestation so that there will be incentive for the people in the communities not to cut down the trees for fuel and other uses. 

            Bobby was very careful to get the cooperation of the communities concerned from the very start. Last June 20, 2017, his team conducted consultations with the first beneficiary community’s Council of Elders—the Bukidnon-Tagoloanon Ancestral Domain Tribe.  A total of 21 participants composed of 8 women and 13 men attended.  The discussion focused on the project objectives, the role of the ORO Chamber, and a presentation on Responsible Agricultural Investments led by the Program Director himself.  The activity concluded successfully as the Bukidnon-Tagoloanon Tribal  Council of Elders formulated a resolution accepting the Project as both beneficiary and co-participant of the Project.  It is very important that this Project should succeed because it can be replicated in numerous other areas in Mindanao and other islands where there are communities of indigenous people, such as Zambales, the Mountain Provinces, Mindoro and others in which reforestation can be implemented with fruit bearing crops that can improve the economic conditions of the poorest of the poor in our country.  Those who want to help in this worthy initiative so that it be sustainable after the USAID assistance ends should get in touch with Mr. Roberto Ansaldo at bob.ansaldo@yahoo.com or igproject2017@gmail.com.   For comments, my email address is bernardo.villegas@uap.asia.