Bernardo M. Villegas
Articles  >> more topics
Salvaging the Agrarian Reform Program (Dec. 3, 2012)

          The Comprehensive Agrarian Program has been generally a big failure in the Philippines, in contrast with the successful programs of Taiwan and South Korea in the last century.  Contrary to what some former landlords are saying, the failure is not mainly due to the fragmentation of land.  Taiwan, South Korea and Thailand have demonstrated that small farms of one to two hectares can be highly productive and profitable if planted to cereals, vegetable and fruits.  Only sugar, bananas, pineapple, rubber and palm oil may need large scale cultivation in tandem with small holders, using the famous nucleus estate system developed by the Malaysians.

          Our CARP failed because our Government did not provide the farmer beneficiaries with the infrastructures that they needed to earn a decent living from their small holdings.  Success in agrarian reform would need a big dose of farm-to-market roads, irrigation systems, post-harvest facilities and other physical infrastructures.  Also primordial for success would be the software:  agricultural extension services, training, and values transformation.  The challenge to our leaders, therefore, in the next ten to twenty years is to complete the agrarian reform process by helping the more than four million small farmers--especially in the coconut regions where poverty incidence is the highest--by endowing them with the necessary infrastructural support--both hardware and software. Meanwhile, we should put a stop to fragmentation and allow consolidation of farms, especially in Western Visayas and Mindanao, for the plantation crops mentioned above.

          The officials of our Department of Agriculture, Department of Agrarian Reform and the Department of Local Government should partner with our many nongovernmental organizations committed to rural and agricultural development to study closely the Saemaul Undung movement which transformed the rural areas of South Korea in the last century.  This program—implemented under the strong leadership of the late President Park Chung Hee during the decade of the seventies in the last century--has been described in great detail in a recent publication of the Asian  Development Bank  entitled "The Saemaul Undung Movement in the Republic of Korea:  Sharing Knowledge on Community-Driven Development."

          Although modern physical infrastructures were an indispensable condition in improving the lives of the Korean farmers, what really changed the environment in the villages was the shifting of "the cultural focus of rural communities away from Confucian-oriented biases that reward paying deference to men and to those viewed as being senior to oneself.  Participation by women in the planning, execution, monitoring, and evaluation of the Community-Driven Development(CDD) projects was facilitated by election of a female Saemaul leader who functioned as a partner to the male leader in rural villages."  Also key to the success of this total-systems approach to rural transformation was the training camp system at the Training Institute for Saemaul Leaders.  During the final stage of the SU movement, the ranks from which participants at the training institute were drawn expanded from Saemaul leaders in rural villages and local administrative officers to members of the urban elite, the latter even including high-ranking government officials chaebol (large industrial conglomerate group) executives, entrepreneurs who had started small- and medium-sized businesses, university professors, student leaders, lawyers, and medical doctors.  Dissemination of SU success stories by the state-controlled media was likewise an important factor in increasing the popularity of the SU movement.

          The authors of the ADB publication--led by Dr. Djun Kil Kim, Visiting Professor of Korean Studies at the University of Asia and the Pacific--suggested the following lessons from the SU movement that may to some degree or another be successfully replicated in a country like the Philippines with the appropriate adaptation:

          -Infusing traditional societies with the attributes of diligence, self-help, ad cooperation can facilitate social and economic transformation.  In some contexts, training camp education may be of use in this regard.

          -Provision of microfinance through institutions such as the Saemaul Bank (Village Bank) can effectively provide low-income communities with credit that can be used to leverage personal resources into investment that ultimately raises rural household incomes.

          -Traditional cultural values and folkways may be of use in propelling socioeconomic change, given that they are appropriately revitalized, transformed and modernized.

          -The top-down command-and-control approach to government involved in CDD projects should be avoided at all costs, as this negates empowerment of local communities.

          -Quantitative monitoring and evaluation of results of CDD programs by government administrations should be avoided, as it likewise negates empowerment of local communities.

          -CDD leaders must be carefully screened if abuse of administrative power that negates local community empowerment is to be avoided.

          Hopefully, the ADB document will whet the appetite of community leaders in the more backward rural areas in the Philippines, such as those in the regions of Eastern Visayas, Bicol,    and Muslim Mindanao to actually travel to South Korea in order to personally observe the training camps of the Saemaul Movement as well as some of the remaining models of progressive villages in South Korea that is now a First World country, thanks to the foundation laid in the last century of a thorough-going transformation of the rural areas through the Saemaul Undung movement.   For more information on this topic, consult the website of the ADB at  To order publications, log on to  For comments, my email address is