Bernardo M. Villegas
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Need to Upskill Agribusiness Executives (Part 3)

                 I told the graduating participants of the Agribusiness Executives Program (AEP) that  these strategies will remain at the theoretical level, unless their respective business enterprises operationalize them through concrete action programs in the short run which must be reflected in their respective budgets for 2024 to 2025.  I want to see in their plans for the current year their acquiring more hectares of land to reach more efficient scales; budgeting larger amounts for the mechanization of their farming operations; diversifying into other food products, whether in livestock, vegetables and fruits benefiting from the technologies provided by such companies as East-West Seeds and Harbest Company; more daring in approaching the leading banks (including the Maharlika Investment Fund) to obtain longer-term credit for their diversification, digitalization or industrialization strategies; pursuing forward or backward linkages in the entire agribusiness supply chain. They can study the experiences of the role models of Philippine agribusiness such as San Miguel Corporation that successfully diversified from a food and beverage company to a  major participant in the infrastructure, transport and logistic sectors.   It will not be long before these large agribusiness ventures, joined by the medium-size companies like North Star Meat and Bounty Fresh, will loom large not only  in the domestic market but can become multinational giants in the  food industry like Jollibee already is today.

            As a last piece of advice I told the graduates that as top executives of some of the leading agribusiness companies in the country, they have a serious responsibility to respond to the appeal of industry leaders, especially from the officers and members of the Philippine Chamber of Commerce and Industry, to be very much involved in upskilling, reskilling and retooling their respective workforce.  In this regard, let me describe here a very innovative approach to producing as quickly as possible highly skilled workers for the different phases of agribusiness, from farming to post-harvest to logistics and all the way to manufacturing of the finished food or feed products.  I am referring to the launching by a group of businessmen, in cooperation with some TESDA-type technical schools, of Project Dual Agritech.  This is a combination of the French-inspired Family Farm School that was established in 1986 by an NGO called Pampamilyang Paaralan Agrikultura Foundation  in Batangas (inaugurated by the late President Corazon Aquino herself)  and the now famous Dualtech Institute that was put up with the help of a German foundation in 1981 that has turned out more than 10,000 electro-mechanic workers through the dual training system perfected in Germany. 

            The family farm approach had little success in the Philippines because the students were limited to the children of small farmers who are among the poorest in Philippine society, in contrast with the well economically endowed French and Spanish farmers among whom the model was perfected.  The early students of the family farm school were frustrated by the lack of resources of their farmer-parents who were unable to help them apply the new approaches and technologies they were learning in the classroom.  The new approach of the Dual Agri-Tech collaboration model will not limit the students to children of farmers.  In addition to learning modern farming techniques, the students will spend six months at the Dualtech campus to acquire electro-mechanical skills that are needed in such tasks as repairing and maintaining farm machineries, irrigation systems, post-harvest facilities, cold storage facilities  and other equipment.  While at Dualtech, they will also develop digital skills that are increasingly needed in the various phases of agribusiness operations.  Both the Family Farm School in Dagatan, Lipa and the  Dualtech are well known for giving as much importance to character or values formation as to technical competence.

            As regards farming technology, the learning modules will be established in a 1,000 square meter area pilot farm inside the school campus in Baranggay Dagatan in Lipa, Batangas, together with a 2 to 3 hectare off-campus cooperator demo farm.  The modules will show case the latest technology and best practices of select crops value chain from planting materials, growing, post harvest, and processing.  These modules will be used and maintained by students of the Senior High School Technology and Livelihood Education strand.

            As has already been perfected by Dualtech over more than 40 years, on-the-job training (OJT) corporate slots will be provided by cooperating agribusiness enterprises.  The students will have access to on-the-job training opportunities for six months on the farm or factory facilities of agribusiness companies in different parts of the Philippines.  This will allow the trainees to acquire hands-on experience to perform as farm operators or as skilled workers in other phases of the agribusiness value chain.  The host collaborating companies for the six months exposure may provide regulated approved allowances for the trainees. Through close collaboration among TESDA, industry and academe (UA&P, for example, is providing the faculty for the IT component of Dualtech), it is hoped that this new skills training approach of the Dualtech Agritech School will be replicated by other groups in the agribusiness sector. I already am aware that family farm schools in other regions such as Mindoro, Iloilo and Dumaguete are contemplating making the same transition towards a dualtech agritech curriculm.   This new initiative is a very concrete response to the appeal of President BBM in his second State of the Nation address for the business and academic communities to collaborate in modifying the K to 10 and K to 12 curricula to motivate more senior high school students to follow the TESDA track rather than continue pursuing college degree programs that do not produce employable workers. For more information about the Dualtech Agritech School, please contact Rey dela Cruz at kingrcdc@gmail.com.   For comments, my email address is bernardo.villegas@uap.asia.