Last November 23, I delivered the keynote speech for the Benguet Adivay 2017 Festival that had the theme “Benguet Culture, Our Future: Sustaining our cultural identity amidst global changes.” The event gave me the opportunity to preach the advocacies closest to my heart for the Philippine agriculture sector: agripreneurship, inclusivity, and application of science and technology-based solutions, so Benguet can have a modern and sustainable agriculture industry.
So I really thank Governor Crescencio Pacalso of Benguet for inviting me to share my advocacies and knowledge that I believe the province can benefit from, because it is still one of the country’s major vegetable and cutflower producers. I also met there Rep. Ronald Cosalan of Benguet.
Also, while I was born and raised in Ilocos Sur, I was educated and became a mentor and a technocrat in Benguet. I also got married in and have all our children born in Benguet. Hence, my heart and my mind belong to Benguet. And I am proud to be a Cordilleran!
It is worth mentioning that Benguet is at No. 1 in terms of HDI or Human Development Index, which is a composite index of life expectancy, education and per capita income indicators.
Benguet also has a low poverty incidence of 2.5 percent, according to the Philippine Statistics Authority (PSA). This is a formidable feat for the whole province.
With a population of almost 800,000, Benguet has 4,783 families or 2.5 percent living below the poverty line. So the people of Benguet must be proud that their province is among the top five provinces with the least poverty incidence in the country.
In 2015, the national poverty threshold was a little less than P11,000 per month in the province. This means that a family of five needed to earn at least P11,000 to be able to eat, have shelter, travel, buy medicine or go to school, among other life necessities. Furthermore, only six out of 100 Benguet citizens are jobless, translating to a high employment rate of 94 percent in the province.
And with its good climate, soil and hardworking people, Benguet can even improve its agricultural productivity, and also prove that areas outside of Metro Manila can provide the opportunity for Filipinos to enjoy a better life.
So despite all the achievements of Benguet, there is still much more to be done!
So let me ask my favorite question —what must be done?
Benguet’s share of national production of leading upland crops is still impressive, with 82.59 percent for carrots, 76.01 for potato, 66.44 percent for cabbage, 62.17 percent for broccoli, 43.30 percent for cauliflower, and 37.2 percent for snap beans, according to PSA statistics.
When it comes to cutflowers, the province supplies 57.51 percent of roses, 53.55 percent of gladiola and 51.74 percent of chrysanthemum, also according to the PSA.
The horticulture industry in the country, much more of Benguet, needs a higher level of budgetary support to further make the industry productive and competitive.
The Inclusive Market-Oriented Development (IMOD) is an excellent framework to establish inclusive agribusiness in Benguet. IMOD builds on four powerful principles: Inclusiveness ensures the poor benefit; innovation accelerates growth; markets motivate growth; and resiliency sustains growth.
Inclusive agribusiness is the creation of opportunities to enable smallholder farmers to become economically viable partners with the big players in the value chain. Models include: Inclusive contract arrangements; corporatives (partnerships between big business and smallholder farmers/fishers); and cooperatives/farmers associations that are managed by the farmers themselves.
Equally important is the application of science and technology in farming like what is done in precision agriculture (PA), which is an approach that uses information technology (IT) to ensure crops and soil receive exactly what they need for optimum health and productivity.
The goal of PA is to ensure profitability, sustainability and protection of the environment.
PA is also known as satellite agriculture, as-needed farming and site-specific crop management. This approach includes accessing real-time data about the conditions of the crops, soil and ambient air, along with other relevant information such as hyper-local weather predictions, labor costs and equipment availability.
Precision agriculture is part of the Fourth Industrial Revolution or Industry 4.0 where cyber physical systems, the Internet of Things (IOT) and networks, are applied in production, including in agriculture.
From what I have seen in Philippine agriculture, including in Benguet, much of farming is still conducted based on the principles of the First Industrial Revolution, because there is limited use of mechanization and electrical power in farming. Also, farming in the Philippines still relies more on human or animal power.
So there is a need to “leap frog” from the environment the country’s agriculture is in now, particularly the First Industrial Revolution, to Industry 4.0. This can be done because there is an abundance of technologies today that can be applied in agriculture.
Industry 4.0 offers a range of new technologies that are fusing the physical, digital and biological worlds. This creates an impact on economies, industries and the social fabrics of countries.
Part of Industry 4.0 is the IOT that can unleash opportunities for modern agribusinesses and agripreneurs by opening new avenues for commerce and trade, inter-connecting producers to markets and vice versa, all in real-time.
So how do we take advantage of the almost overwhelming innovations and breakthroughs that accompanies the Fourth Industrial Revolution to rethink and transform our food systems?
And in the case of Benguet, how should the province increase its vegetable and cutflower production in a sustainable manner with smallholder farmers benefiting from the “revolution?”
Working together for sustainability
All stakeholders need to work together to create a more sustainable food system that achieves solutions that are: Integrated and holistic; focused on local impact; innovative; and collaborative.
When I say integrated and holistic, this means land use, water and energy efficiency, and ecosystems and biodiversity are all interrelated and need to be considered holistically in developing solutions.
On focusing on local impact, the intended solutions must support local communities, enhance livelihoods and assure social and economic value to those connected to the food system.
Innovative means product, technical, process and business model innovations will all be required to realize a more sustainable food and agriculture system. Also part of this equation is value adding and planting of other crops that can generate more earnings for smallholder farmers.
And collaborative means the participation and role of all stakeholders is essential if we are to bring sustainable, scalable solutions to the market. Furthermore, food and agriculture is a system, so we need to take a value network approach.
I believe that Benguet can become one of the leaders of inclusive agribusiness in the country, and serve as a model for other provinces.
Besides tapping into the power of IOT, agribusinesses and rural development organizations in Benguet must take advantage of contemporary ICT tools and platforms.
Also, Benguet should provide aspiring or young innovators and agripreneurs a system that has a variety of support services to help them develop, launch and scale up their products and services.
The province of Benguet has no other choice but to move forward! And with Industry 4.0, its agriculture sector can even make leaps and bounds. Hence, a platform for an integrated approach and convergence in agriculture, trade, tourism and environment is necessary.