Bernardo M. Villegas
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Reasons for Optimism in Agriculture (Part 3)

          I pointed out to Secretary Dar that he has a strong ally in the promotion of high-value farming in the Go Negosyo movement of Joey Concepcion in partnership with the Department of Trade and Industry that has implemented a very pragmatic solution to helping small farmers adopt technologies in producing high-value fruits and vegetables.  Called the Go Negosyo Kapatid-Agri Mentors, this initiative of some private individuals has evolved a realistic mentoring system through which urban farmers from the middle-class share their experiences in successful high-value gardening with poorer farmers with the help of technology companies like Harbest and East West Seed and supported by large-scale buyers of high-value food products such as the SM Group, the Robinson Group and Jardine.  I have always maintained that as a principle we should not encourage very poor people to risk losing their already meager incomes in an entrepreneurial venture, whether in farming, trading or manufacturing.  The efforts to develop small and medium-scale entrepreneurs should rest on the shoulders of middle-class households that earn at least 20 to 30 thousand pesos a month.  These are the ones who can afford to take entrepreneurial risks.

         This strategy is what is being followed by the Go Negosyo Kapatid-Agri Mentoring system through which middle-class farmers act as mentors to poor rural households in helping them apply more advanced technology in the growing of such very sellable products as honey dew melon, red lady papaya, water melon, ampalaya, upo, kalabasa (squash), eggplants, patola and organic lettuce.  Through Go Negosyo, literally hundreds of middle-income farmers (a good number of them coming from the professional class of accountants, lawyers, engineers, teachers and other urban gardening converts) are spending time not only in the nearby provinces of Luzon but in the really impoverished regions of Jolo, Lanao del Sur,  Samar, Leyte and other provinces  in the poorer regions of the Philippines, spreading advanced technology in high value farming.  They are very effective mentors because they are talking from experience.   There is an increasing number of NGOs that are following this route and expanding the reach of private sector initiative in addressing agricultural productivity among small farmers and thus contributing to the reduction of poverty in the rural areas.  In fact, through urban gardening, some of the beneficiaries of this mentoring system are informal settlers in the urban areas which have empty lots that can be converted into urban gardens.    Some of the other NGOs active in this regard are Udenna Foundation, SM Foundation, Foodlink Advocacy Co-Operative, ANSA Foundation and PUMP-PINAS Agribusiness Corporation.

         The last mentioned is a social enterprise that is working closely with Secretary Dar to promote Inclusive Market-Oriented Development (IMOD) through its Corporative Business Model.  PUMP-PINAS (PPAC) will also serve as lead enterprise of the manufacturing group that will initiate a joint venture with farmers’ cooperatives in the province of Batangas, thus forming a company that will create social impact and leverage on economies of scale.  The market for the produce can be either local or global.  Under the PPAC business model, the Joint Venture will offer profit sharing between the manufacturing group and the farmers’ cooperatives which have been best developed in the province of Batangas.   By combining the Province’s resources and good governance with the PPAC’s business model together with the pool of experts gathered by PPAC and linkages to agribusiness organizations, the province of Batangas can fast track the development of its local economy.  Its advanced infrastructures (seaport, railway and airport) will facilitate the province’s linkages with both domestic and global markets.

         Once the Batangas model is proved successful, PUMP-PINAS Agribusiness Corporation will target eight other key areas to replicate the model.  This will allow integration of local supply chains for major crops such as cacao, coffee, banana, mango, vegetable and other high value crops.  The targeted areas are North Luzon (Cordillera, Benguet, Tuguegarao, Isabela and Batanes); Zambales; Batangas; South Luzon (Masbate, Sorsogon, Catanduanes, Camarines Norte and Quezon Province); Mindoro (Oriental and Occidental); Eastern Visayas (Samar, Leyte, Catarman, Catbalogan, Bohol); Western Mindanao (Zamboanga del Norte and Sur, Dipolog, Pagadian, General Santo and Ipil); and Eastern Mindanao (Surigao, Bukidnon and Agusan). 

         Given the leadership of Secretary William Dar, it is very likely that there will be other similarly motivated social enterprises like PUMP-PINAS that will initiate similar projects in other parts of the country.  I have observed that among the millennials, there is an increasing number of entrepreneurs who are attracted to agribusiness because they see in the various models of organizing farmers for food production opportunities to make a profit while at the same time serving society in its greatest need of eradicating poverty.  Through whatever models of agribusiness (corporatives, cooperatives, nucleus estate, mentoring, contract farming) one may choose, there is always the possibility of helping the poor farmers to improve their economic conditions.  Since 75 percent of the Philippine poor are in the rural areas, helping Secretary Dar succeed in improving agricultural productivity is synonymous with helping to eradicate Philippine poverty.  For comments, my email address is bernardo.villegas@uap.asia.