Bernardo M. Villegas
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More Appropriate Role of SUCs (Part 2)

             Some SUCs should follow the lead of the Benguet State University that is partnering with the private sector to develop part of the idle lands that it owns into a profit-generating tourism project.  What BSU is doing in the area of the hospitality industry can be replicated in the even more vital agribusiness sector which can have even greater multiplier effects than tourism.  Some innovative SUCs can even link this possible partnership with the private sector to what LGUs will be receiving as added revenue from the Mandanas-Garcia ruling.  Part of the increase in the revenue of the LGU can be utilized in putting up what Dr. Nap Juanillo refers to as the Agribusiness Innovation Ecosystem Roadmap.  The Roadmap will provide the blueprint for innovating and upgrading products, processes and systems in local food production in pursuit of greater yield, higher quality products, cost savings and production efficiency as well as improved sustainability.

            The Roadmap sets the stage for local stakeholders such as producers or agribusiness enterprises, knowledge generators (i.e. SUCs or private HEIs), human capital developers, government agencies, financing groups including venture capitalists, etc. to prioritize and focus on what specific action points in local food production can best address identified challenges and opportunities in the value and supply chains, including the increasing importance of environmental protection, standards, labels, and food safety.

            The Agribusiness Innovation Ecosystem Roadmaps link the interests of individual local actors within the ecosystem in transforming ideas into useful products and services in order to adapt to the changing environment and market conditions.  In a healthy agricultural innovation ecosystem, some of the profits from the private sector can be channeled into research and innovation, resulting in innovative commercial products that grow the local economy.  When this succeeds, it creates a virtuous cycle of more research and innovation and more innovation-driven profits in the local economy.

            As has been perfected in some state colleges and universities in the United States, extension services are provided to the local communities by the agribusiness innovation centers nurtured within the SUCs.  From these centers, agribusiness extension workers provide information and education on the use of business and economic principles for making decisions involving agriculture, natural resources and communities.   The team of workers will provide targeted educational programming and technical assistance related to agribusiness, promote the development of economically viable local and regional food systems, and serve as the primary agents for empathy-driven search for problems in the local food systems.

            The Agribusiness Extension Centers will offer programs and decision tools including enterprise   entrepreneurship, business planning and risk management education for improving profitability and sustainability.  The agribusiness extension programming will focus on the needs of farmers at the production level of the supply chain as well as reach out to involve suppliers and buyers in support of the entire value chain.  It is also important   that the extension centers will focus on industry-level coordination matters, looking at economic issues within the entire supply chain.  The extension workers will target commercial growers, beginning and small farmers, agribusiness enterprises, lenders, and agribusiness professionals.  With sufficient personnel, the scope can be expanded to include specialty food channels, values-based market channel partners, national trade organizations, agritourism ventures, food processors, food wholesalers, small scale exporters, and others.  The economic and management tools developed for localized audiences can be readily adapted to serve the needs of managers within these groups.

            The SUCs can also be the promoters of short skills-oriented courses that can produce what we can call master gardeners (a technically more enlightened version of the so-called plantitos and plantitas that mushroomed among amateur gardeners during the pandemic).  This neighborhood gardener program has the purpose of inculcating the love and appreciation for agriculture and food production, especially among the young, both in rural and urban communities.  The SUCs can work closely with the Department of Agrarian Reform that has expressed its willingness to help the farmer beneficiaries of agrarian reform programs of the past to upskill themselves in more productive and sustainable practices of farming.  Beyond the actual small farmers, this neighborhood gardener program should include non-farmers who can become part of the country’s “army” of budding agriculturists and food producers.  This army can include peer educators, agricultural specialists, and advocates who can effectively build relationships wih the community to integrate local experience and research-based knowledge and use garden-based learning as a platform where participants can learn about nutrition, food production, and environmental stewardship.  They can then become catalysts for addressing food security and hunger.

            As the master gardener program has an educational focus rather than the promotion of commercial products and entities, it will serve as a living space for generating new ideas and exploring innovative products, techniques and processes that fit and address local problems.  Examples of these neighborhood innovative experimentations can include composting, hydroponics, bio-intensive gardening and so forth.  As an expansion of the so-called “plantito and plantita” trend, these neighborhood gardening programs will provide participants at all social and age levels with hands-on and fun-filled experiential learning in growing their own food

The SUCs can also be the focal points for what can be termed as “local agribusiness commons.” As must be constantly repeated, agribusiness goes much beyond farming.  It involves all activities involved in making food available to the final consumers, including the supply of agricultural inputs as well as the processing and distribution of agricultural products.  Gaining value and learning from data collected along these points are essential for informed decision making.  The Local Agribusiness Digital Commons can be designed to include panels that provide a central platform for agribusiness enterprises to gain insights into product trends, consumer preferences, market and system requirements, lessons learned, innovations, agricultural startups, best practices around pricing, branding and product features, industry competitors (both domestic and foreign), etc.  Information mined from the Local Agribusiness Digital Commons can help the various stakeholders to redirect, pivot, and to re-strategize, given the changing landscape.

As academic institutions, the SUCs are perfect venues for the Local Agribusiness Commons which can have panels that make it easy for buyers to locate and purchase products, while giving local agribusiness enterprises access to a larger market, thus reducing operating costs per unit.  It can help improve production planning for farmers and growers, serve as a local platform for e-commerce within agribusiness and enhance visibility and grow market share.  Furthermore, the Local Agribusiness Digital Commons can be designed to promote the local products and local brands and leverage on digital tools that can enhance and facilitate customer experience, buyer and seller transactions, and - dispense with labor-intensive data collection and communication tasks. 

Finally, the SUCs in predominantly rural areas can also be the venues for the Business and Entrepreneurial Skills Training (BEST) program which targets the mindset of farmers and the productive members of their respective families, transforming them to become financially literate, successful negotiators, and knowledgeable about how markets work.  The ultimate goal is to transition the farmers and their household members to become users of applicable digital tools platforms and other innovations, including accessing the Local Agribusiness Digital Commons.  Digital transformation of farmers is not an insurmountable barrier once the practical uses and incentives are clearly explained using the appropriate adult and extension training and language tools and techniques.   If SUCs are bold enough to accept this most appropriate role for them in the country’s goal of food security and poverty alleviation, their existence would have been more than justified in a situation in which the Government is still struggling to comply with the constitutional mandate of proving free education to all Filipino children and youth at the basic education level.  For comments, my email address is