Sometime in July 2012, the Agricultural Training Institute of the Department of Agriculture implemented a capacity enhancement project for farmers to learn business management and market-oriented farming. The project sites were in the provinces of Nueva Ecija and Nueva Viscaya. Carrying the title, “Capacity Building for Small Farmers on Enterprise Development and Market Access Project,” the outcome of the capacity enhancement exercise was to enable farmers to have improved market access and positive improvements in farm incomes. It adopted the Farm Business School (FBS) approach, which the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations implemented in some Asian countries a bit earlier.
According to the Companion Guide of the FBS Training Manual, the farmers’ needs to acquire entrepreneurial and management skills are best provided for at the village level using experiential learning, or the “learning by doing” scheme. A combined team of lead farmers and extension officers serves as mentors to a group of farmer-students who learn together at their own pace. The competencies that farmers will have to acquire for business success are grouped in three clusters. Cluster 1 is called “Achievement Cluster” and includes competencies such as opportunity seeking and initiative, risk taking, demand for efficiency and quality, persistence, and commitment to the work contract. Cluster 2 is labeled “Planning Cluster” and covers information seeking, goal setting, and systematic planning and monitoring. Cluster 3 is called “Power Cluster” and includes persuasion and networking, and independence and self-confidence. The farmers are trained to conduct a market survey, then analyze and present the results, and translate the results into action within the context of their current farm situation. A farm business plan is eventually prepared and implemented; progress monitored and corrective action taken as business performance metrics deviate from the targets. In a Special Report published by The Manila Times on June 22, 2013, the average age of Filipino farmers was already moving closer to the senior citizen bracket. It was estimated at 55 to 59 years old.
As this continuing education endeavor was being pursued, the Philippine Statistics Authority (PSA) commenced data gathering for the 2012 Census of Agriculture. It was only three years later, on December 21, 2015, that the results of the census were reported. It revealed that there were 5.56 million farms/holdings covering a total area of 7.19 million hectares (has). The PSA defined a farm/holding as “any piece of land used wholly or partly for any agricultural production involved in raising crops, livestock, poultry and other agricultural activities under single management, and operated as one technical unit by one person alone or with others, regardless of title, legal form, size or location.” The average area per farm/holding was 1.29 has. In 1980, the average area per farm/holding was bigger at 2.84 has. The regions that had larger areas per farm/holding relative to the national average were CARAGA or Region 13 with 2.515 has; Zamboanga Peninsula or Region 9 with 2.107 has; Davao or Region 11 with 1.688 has; MIMAROPA or Region 4B with 1.604 has; SOCCSKSARGEN or Region 12 with 1.603 has; and Bicol or Region 5 with 1.575 has/farm/holding. It is interesting to note that despite the conversion of farmlands into industrial use in CALABARZON, the average area per farm/holding was 1.455 has. About 80 percent of farms/holdings in the country have an average area of 1.47 has/farm/holding and below, and that close to 99 percent of those were operated by individuals or households.
With the aging farmers and predominantly smaller-size farms/holdings in the country that are operated by individuals or households, the Asian Farmers’ Association for Sustainable Rural Development (AFA) has one from among its 5-point Priority Agenda that promotes agriculture for the younger generation by building their “interests and capacities toward sustainable and resilient farming and related enterprises.” The AFA recognized that the bargaining power of farmers in relation to their markets could best be pursued through collective action, and stronger involvement in the agriculture and food value chains. To successfully engage with markets, the AFA identified five skill sets that farmers must have. These are, “organizing democratically for collective decision-making; managing savings and lending to protect key assets, smooth consumption and encourage investment; selecting, establishing and growing an enterprise; managing natural resources for sustainable agricultural production; and managing knowledge to innovate and maintain competitiveness in a changing market”.
Louie A. Divinagracia is a licensed agriculturist. He is also an eLearning author in agribusiness under the Self-Learning Course Project of the Asian Productivity Organization, which provides open-access learning as a continuing education initiative. Dr. Divinagracia teaches graduate-level courses at the University of the Philippines Los Banos, and at De La Salle University, where he mentors master’s degree students and doctorates. He welcomes comments at email@example.com. The views expressed above are the author’s and do not necessarily reflect the official position of DLSU, its faculty and its administrators.