‘Servant leadership’



ON February 17, I was in Patancheru, India at the naming ceremony of a facility of the International Crops Research Institute for the Semi-Arid Tropics (ICRISAT) that has been named after me. The facility called the Agribusiness and Innovation Platform (AIP) is now the William D. Dar Agribusiness Center.

I really thank the chair of the ICRISAT Governing Board Dr. Chandra Madramooto and its leadership under Dr David Bergvinson for the honor of having the agency’s AIP facility named after me. I actually consider that providential, as it happens that one of my latest advocacies and engagements in the Philippines is in Agribusiness Incubation or ABI. Today, the Third World is even waking up to the necessity of Agribusiness Incubation.

As you may know, I am now the President of the InangLupa or Motherland Movement. In fact, I owe ICRISAT the privilege of having founded InangLupa at the ICRISAT campus in 2014 before I retired as its Director General. Along with ABI, InangLupa is developing young Filipino farmers into entrepreneurs.

You can be sure that in my advocacy work today, there is much that we Filipinos can borrow from the works of ICRISAT before, during and after my tenure as Director General, in terms of systems, approaches and technologies. One of these systems I will simply call Kothapally, whereby villagers built a watershed where none existed before, enriching their village and themselves. Kothapally was a true partnership of scientists and villagers and other sectors. Let me not forget about the contribution of Kothapally in upscaling community watersheds in a big way globally.

My 15 years being the head of ICRISAT were marked with initiatives with the cooperation of many institutional and individual partners including initiatives of scientists. The IMOD, or the Inclusive Market-Oriented Development strategy, was conceptualized and generated in 2010 via consultations with many partners and friends in India, and everywhere ICRISAT has been working, including Africa. The difference between “inclusive growth” and “inclusive development” is that in the latter, IMOD makes sure that the small farmers are included as actors and not simply as beneficiaries of outputs and outcomes. Innovations fuel growth and development while building the resiliency of farming communities is a continuing activity for them to be able to cope up with the changing climate. Market-oriented makes sure that the farmer-producers receive their proper share of the values added along the chain from seed to spoon.

Another initiative worth mentioning is on public-private partnership (PPP). The hybrid research consortium has been very successful and has become a model adopted by International Rice Research Institute (IRRI), International Maize and Wheat Improvement Center (CIMMYT), and India.

In India and the Philippines, as elsewhere, it is the poor farmers who are most vulnerable to market forces. I am glad that during my term, ICRISAT utilized and observed that warrantage or inventory credit system was good for the poor farmers who were cash-strapped between harvests, since with warrantage they did not have to borrow from the usurers, and they still could sell their harvest at a later time when the price was right. I think it will be necessary to strengthen and upscale the inventory credit system in the country and elsewhere.

I came to ICRISAT in January 2000 believing in servant leadership. The term itself describes what it is all about: that you are a servant first before you are a leader. You lead the flock serving the people. That is why we had this slogan, “Science with a human face.” We wanted to be always reminded that science must serve the people.

Another way of looking at my leadership tenure at ICRISAT is that I was Team Captain, and the scientists and staff were the players. We were a team. It was not simply individuals working on their jobs and not minding the others. We had a lot of work to do.

During those early years, starting 2000, we were dreaming, we were hoping and aspiring, and we were working together with all our hearts and minds to bring ICRISAT from a state of limited achievements to a state of unlimited options for institutional accomplishments. When we succeeded, we succeeded as one. And that is how, for instance, ICRISAT won awards after awards after awards. We all rejoiced because we knew that everyone contributed so that ICRISAT became a winner.

Proof that ICRISAT was transformed into a nearly demoralized agency into a responsive, proactive, relevant and globally known entity under my leadership is the quadrupling of its budget from $21 million when I took over in 2000 to $85 million in 2014.

If you ask me whom I miss the most working at ICRISAT, it’s not someone—it’s the team. Thank you team ICRISAT!

This is what servant leadership is all about. I served ICRISAT for 15 years with passion, hardwork, honesty and humility.

After that, I had to go back home as I love the Philippines and my late father being a farmer, and my becoming a farmer-technician in my early working years opened my eyes to the need to serve my country, particularly to help modernize and industrialize its agriculture sector.

Also, the Philippines is blessed with annual rainfall amounting to 2,300 millimeters, or three times that of India, which means whatever solutions ICRISAT put into place in India can work in my home country. ICRISAT also had a lot of successes in parts of Africa, which besides having almost the same challenges in water supply like India also presented problems related to peace and order, poor agriculture infrastructure, and fragmented or disorganized farmers.

The Philippines can also become a powerhouse in terms of farm exports. At present, the country only has two agriculture exports that earn the country about $1 billion per year: bananas and coconuts.

And to help slowly realize that, the Young Entrepreneur-Farmers (YEF) Philippines, of which I am one of the advisers, has committed to help the Duterte administration implement “Negosyo Para sa Kapayapaan sa Sulu” project.

The project will help increase the productivity and incomes of farmers and their families in Sulu by teaching them modern and sustainable technologies to produce world-class quality fruits, vegetables and other high-value crops, in partnership with Notre Dame and Mindanao State University.

YEF, along with Arsenio Barcelona of Harbest Agribusiness Corporation, is part of the Kapatid Agri Mentors Group, led by Presidential Adviser for Entrepreneurship and Go Negosyo founder Joey Concepcion.

In a related front, I am one of those engaged in planning for the Asean Agriculture Summit to be held this year in Manila. As you may know, Southeast Asian countries are trying to emulate the best of the European Union. And we Filipinos need not only food sufficiency but most of all food security. That is one of the lessons I have all learned at ICRISAT, or farmers who grow the country’s food needs must also have the capacity to purchase food for themselves and their families.

Ironically, if farmers grow traditional crops like rice and corn, they end up earning less. But if they grow high-value crops that can be processed into products that have longer shelf life and an export market, they can earn more to feed their families. That is an important component of food security alongside the need for facilities to store staples, transportation and infrastructure, among others.

Helping the country achieve food security is also one of my primary concerns and advocacies.

After deciding to retire as the head of ICRISAT, never did it enter my mind that my mind would relax or not be sought out for solutions. I guess my being a servant leader will never end.


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