Whenever the topic of state colleges and universities (SCUs) offering agriculture and related courses crops up, the names that I usually see here are University of the Philippines Los Baños, Central Luzon State University, Benguet State University, Mariano Marcos State University, Ilocos Sur Polytechnic State College, Isabela State University and University of Southern Mindanao, among others.
There are actually a lot of colleges and universities offering agriculture and related courses nationwide, or 20 percent of higher education institutions (HEIs) in the country of which 32 were private and public 346, for a total of 378: Agriculture courses—private 17, public 166 for a total of 183; Doctor of Veterinary Medicine—private three, public 17 for a total of 20; Fisheries—private one, public 73 for a total of 74; Forestry—private two, public 57 for a total of 59; and Food Technology—private nine, public 33 for a total of 42.
But the question remains—why the low productivity of Philippine agriculture?
Let me state again that the country remains a net food importer and has only two agriculture products that generate about $1 billion from exports annually: bananas and coconut (mostly in the form of oil). The Philippines also does not have any other farm export generating about $500 million in receipts annually.
Thailand, on the other hand, boasts of 17 farm products generating at least $500 million in export receipts annually with natural rubber yielding $4.4 billion; Indonesia, 10 farm products with palm oil topping the list with $14.4 billion; and Vietnam nine with coffee leading with $3.3 billion.
Also, according to the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), the Philippines has a low Total Factor Productivity (TFP) at 1.87 percent from 2001 to 2013. While that is a big improvement over the 0.18 percent during the 1980s and 0.53 percent during the 1990s, the country still lags behind its Asean counterparts: during the 1980s, Malaysia’s TFP was 3.01 percent, 1.88 percent in the 1990s, and 2.85 percent from 2001 to 2013; and Vietnam’s was 1.17 percent in the 1980s, 2.33 percent in the 1990s and 2.53 percent from 2001 to 2013.
According to USDA, TFP is the most informative measure of long-term agricultural productivity. TFP covers land, labor, capital, and material resources used in production and compared to total crop and livestock output.
Agripreneurship is the answer
So what should be done? Or in the case of HEIs offering agriculture and related courses, what should these
institutions do to modernize and industrialize the Philippine agriculture sector?
My answer for these HEIs is to start creating agripreneurs or take part in “modernizing and industrializing the agriculture sector anchored on an ecosystem for entrepreneurship.”
So I believe it is high time that HEIs offering agriculture and related courses start redesigning or hybridizing their curriculum, and make more relevant their research, development and extension (RDE) activities, so they can make greater contributions in creating an ecosystem for agripreneurship.
We have heard many times how traditional classroom teaching may not be geared toward the “real world.” So what must be done first is to design academic programs and offerings taking into consideration the unique agro-ecological setting of universities beyond the confines of classrooms.
Also, industry players can provide the platform for the unique agro-ecological settings so smallholder farmers and agripreneurs can undergo experiential learning. HEIs, particularly those agriculture-based SCUs through the Commission on Higher Education (CHED), should weave into their STEAM-based curricula the art and science of entrepreneurship
The paradigm shift toward agripreneurship should also start at elementary and high school, so young people can appreciate agriculture and agricultural enterprises at a young age.
The out-of-school youth can also be trained to initially become farmers and eventually agripreneurs through trainings outside of the formal education system under the Technical Education and Skills Development Authority (TESDA) and the Department of Agriculture – Agricultural Training Institute (DA-ATI).
The end-result of a vastly improved curriculum for agriculture and related courses should be graduates who will implement inclusive agribusinesses thereby creating more incomes, jobs, and more wealth for the country.
Other agencies must take part
But HEIs should not be counted solely to produce agripreneurs, so it is a requirement that government through the DA to reorient its officials and rank and file toward entrepreneurship, so its programs and projects must result in producing agripreneurs among smallholder farmers and the youth.
Besides the DA, the Department of Agrarian Reform should take an active part in producing agripreneurs particularly from agrarian reform communities and beneficiaries. The Department of Trade and Industry must also explore markets for raw, semi-processed and finished agriculture products so agripreneurs will have first-hand knowledge also on the export markets.
Agribusiness incubation (ABI) can also be adopted as a platform to spur agripreneursip. ABI is not simply about creating and innovating technologies for farmers; it is about making businesses adopt and commercialize technologies to attain profitability, build up their capital, and create more wealth. The primary target of ABI programs should be smallholder farmers and agripreneurs.
The components of ABI are: Technology consulting; capacity building and training; access to funding; business facilitation; and infrastructure and facilities.
Differences between farmers, agripreneurs
So let me explain the difference between an agripreneur, a typical farmer and a farm manager.
A farmer, especially the smallholder, is more concerned with cultivating land for the production of crops that can be considered subsistence like rice and corn.
A farm manager is more concerned in overseeing farm operations, but may still not see the “bigger picture” like value adding and the potential of the export market.
Agripreneurs see the advantage of value adding, adopting science-based approaches to production, and looking for markets beyond their locality, including export.
When it comes to RDE, extension agents should retool themselves to become more oriented toward creating agripreneurs instead of helping farmers increase productivity. This means research and development should also take into account factors like ease of adaptability of a technology by smallholder farmers and the youth, and creating wealth from value adding.
SCUs and government agencies should also have programs to link smallholder farmers with the country’s agro-industrial complex, or the large agribusiness firms themselves initiating mutually beneficial arrangements also with smallholder farmers.
Good examples are Dole, Del Monte and Sumifru providing technical assistance and free planting materials to smallholder farmers who are also given full participation from production to harvest.
Nestle Philippines, in its arrangements with farmers, supplies superior coffee clones at cost, provides extension support, and buys back coffee beans at prevailing world market prices.
Prasad Seeds Philippines, where I am strategic adviser, also provides extension support to its smallholder partners and guarantees a pre-determined price for what is produced by them.
I do not see any reason why HEIs in the rural areas (and there are plenty of them) with the cooperation of local government units and the DA (especially the regional offices and research centers) can facilitate or assist in the forging of such mutually beneficial arrangement between smallholder farmers and large agribusiness firms.
But HEIs must first hybridize or redesign their curriculum to primarily create agripreneurs. That may sound daunting at first, but it can be done. I will discuss more on how it can be done in my future columns.