(First of two parts)
Most parents usually rejoice once their children graduate from college, because that would mean their son or daughter will finally become a productive citizen who can be part of nation building; that is, if new graduates become meaningfully employed and are paid adequately.
I believe (like the other experts say) that unemployment and underemployment are a result of “job mismatch,” or higher education institutions (HEIs) producing graduates that do not match the needs of industries. Job mismatch has resulted in only 10 to 15 percent of about 700,000 graduates every year getting employed, with many of them in jobs where they are underemployed or underpaid.
While job mismatch is being gradually addressed by government entities like the Commission on Higher Education (CHED), there is a new and emerging challenge to make education a strategy to enhance profitability, sustainability and competitiveness. This is in brief the entrepreneurial paradigm that the agricultural sector will have to pursue where agri-graduates can initiate the momentum on agripreneurship (profitable marriage of agriculture and entrepreneurship). Agripreneurs are the new breed of businessmen who drive change through innovations serving new markets or crafting new ways of farming (Bairwa et al, 2015).
But why the agriculture sector? My answer is anchored on the sector’s huge potential to generate more jobs and wealth if HEIs produce more agripreneurs who can impact the agriculture sector through wide-scale high-value crop/livestock production and value-adding alongside the food industry. At present, rice, corn and coconut are the top three crops planted in the country’s farmlands with most rice and coconut farmers entrenched in poverty.
In short, what must be done?
First, let me state that the relatively new Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM)-based curricula of HEIs and the about 40-year old BS Agriculture course cannot produce a critical mass of agripreneurs.
We can also blame the typical mindset of many parents who send their children to school – that of making their children future employees and not entrepreneurs who are capable of creating opportunities, enterprises, jobs and wealth.
Initiating a cultural change so parents would make their children aspire for entrepreneurship instead of employment can start at the schools, and we can do that by reinventing and hybridizing the STEM-based curricula to include entrepreneurship and agripreneurship. Academic program offerings should be designed with consideration of the unique agro-ecological setting of universities’ service areas and a pedagogy beyond the confines of classrooms, which implies the need for a venue for students’ application of lessons learned especially in real life situations and to strengthen critical thinking. The industry players can provide said platform for experiential learning.
Also, the Department of Agriculture (DA) must reorient its officials and rank and file toward entrepreneurship, so its programs and projects must result in producing agripreneurs among young farmers and the youth.
DA should take the lead
It is the DA that can jump start the paradigm shift toward agripreneurship by establishing an Entrepreneurial and Agribusiness Center that will conduct research and development (R&D) activities and provide training on entrepreneurship. This should result in the coordination of R&D activities and training programs toward agripreneurship among DA’s attached agencies and bureaus, with its regional field offices actively taking part in the process.
The DA’s efforts in initiating a paradigm shift toward agripreneurship should be supported by State Colleges and Universities (SCUs), and there should be coordination between the DA and SCUs in the crafting of courses and subjects to create agripreneurs.
In summary, the DA and its attached agencies and bureaus must embrace the spirit of agripreneurship.
Also, the R&D efforts of the DA and its agencies and attached bureaus should result in the development of products that can be used by industries, either in finished or semi-finished (pre-processing) form. I am not saying that R&D efforts should not include the development of products for consumers, because that can also be profitable; what I am emphasizing is there are lots of industries in the Philippines that import most of their inputs that are processed from raw farm produce. One such product is cassava chips that are now being produced by a growing number of farmer cooperatives that are also planting the once lowly crop.
I also learned that the Philippine Center for Postharvest Development and Mechanization under the DA has developed a technology to produce pectin from mango peels. Pectin is used by the food and cosmetic industries.
Of course, it would help a lot if the DA and other government agencies link farmer cooperatives and agripreneurs with industries that need farm inputs, which I believe is not limited to those engaged in food processing. A lot of market-based research should also go into identifying the farm-based inputs that industries need. I have yet to see an effort for that.
The KAMMP initiative and agribusiness incubation
One program in place in the country today to produce agripreneurs is the Kapatid Agri Mentor Me Program (KAMMP), which is an initiative between the DA under Secretary Manny Piñol, and Go Negosyo founded by Joey Concepcion, who is the Presidential Adviser for Entrepreneurship. KAMMP was patterned after the Kapatid Mentor Me Program (KMME) of Go Negosyo and the Department of Trade and Industry, where coaching and mentoring sessions are conducted by business owners and entrepreneurs.
And at the Isabela State University, I was recently designated as chair of the External Program and Management Review (EPMR) panel, where we can propose radical changes to the university’s curriculum and services so the institution can take the lead in producing agripreneurs. One of EPMR’s assessment of ISU, for instance, is for them to examine their course programs and determine their connections with the primary/core mandate of the university, which is agriculture.
There is also the Young Entrepreneur-Farmers of the Philippines (YEF Philippines) whose vision is to create “A food secure, resilient, and prosperous Philippines propelled by empowered young farmers-entrepreneurs,” which is part of Concepcion’s Go Negosyo initiatives.
The lead convenor of YEF Philippines is Arsenio Barcelona while I am its adviser. The program will offer 10 subjects covering the following: values formation; basic courses on the production of crops; and entrepreneurship.
Agripreneurship should eventually result in Agribusiness Incubation (ABI), which should result in scientific innovations to propel business growth for smallholder farmers.
As I have stated in one of my past columns, the components of ABI are: technology consulting that allows the participating institutions to identify or even develop the technologies farmers and stakeholders need in value adding or increasing farm production; capacity building and training to make sure farmers and stakeholders gain the required knowledge on technologies and how to run successfully a business enterprise; and access to funding that not only covers credit but also possible capital infusion by participants or venture capitalists.
I understand that the Bureau of Agricultural Research (BAR) and the Philippine Council for Agriculture, Aquatic and Natural Resources Research and Development (PCAARRD) are starting to implement their respective agribusiness incubation programs.
ABI demonstrates clearly that science and entrepreneurship go hand-in-hand, and that calls for scientists and researchers to become oriented toward entrepreneurship and agripreneurship; the days when scientists and researchers confined themselves to laboratories and classrooms should come to pass. The same should be said in the application of the STEM-based curricula, or science should be taught also in the context of entrepreneurship or creating enterprises, jobs, products and wealth.
Over the long term, agripreneurship should elevate the country’s agriculture sector, and inclusive growth should follow.