Strategic partnerships and the market



When I started heading the International Crops Research Institute for the Semi-Arid Tropics (ICRISAT) in 1999, among the first strategic moves I put into place was to initiate partnerships in both the conceptualization and undertaking of projects and programs.

To say that the partnerships helped make a big impact on the lives of stakeholders, particularly small holder farmers, is an understatement. It also showed that ICRISAT humbly accepted that it does not have the monopoly of knowledge and expertise, which is a very dangerous mindset that leads some institutions to ultimate failure when conceptualizing and undertaking projects and programs.

Partnerships not only foster cooperation but also a sharing of expertise, knowledge and eventually the fruits of a project or program. And ICRISAT’s partnerships were not only limited to smallholder farmers but also with research and development (R&D) institutions, private organizations and international agencies, among others.

Such partnerships actually go beyond cooperation, where the usual set up is only one institution taking up the role of knowledge provider, assuring near absolute control over the project or program. This type of “cooperation” only leaves smallholder farmers dependent on the lead institution, fostering long-term dependence on the institution for knowledge and even social and economic progress. This is definitely not a formula for empowering small farmers.

Partnerships, in essence, are about sharing the following: passion, vision, values, goals and resources. All of those are important and cannot do without the other. For example, without passion, the partnership would weaken or even disintegrate once big challenges arise and make it nearly impossible to achieve objectives or goals. Or without shared resources, whether monetary or knowledge, one or several participants will feel like they do not have a real stake in a project or program, leading to a possible waning of interest in the project or program, especially when what seem to be insurmountable challenges arise.

So strategic partnerships should be an arrangement between entities, companies or organizations to help each other or work together, to make it easier for each of them to achieve the set objectives.

I also believe that higher education institutions (HEIs) are capable strategic partners, especially those that have ongoing R&D efforts.

On October 9, 1998, the World Conference on Higher Education facilitated by UNESCO adopted the World Declaration on Higher Education for the 21st Century of which Article 17 was about Partnership and Alliances. It states: “national and institutional policy-makers, teaching and related staff, researchers and students, and administrative and technical personnel in institutions of higher education, the world of work, community groups – is a powerful force in managing change. Also, non-governmental organizations are key actors in this process. Henceforth, partnership, based on common interest, mutual respect and credibility, should be a prime matrix for renewal in higher education.”

In the Philippines, I strongly believe state colleges and universities (SCUs) can become strategic partners in helping modernize the country’s agriculture sector. SCUs are even mandated by the Agriculture and Fisheries Modernization Act of 1997 (Republic Act No. 8435) under

Section 66, through the Commission on Higher Education (CHED), in coordination with the Department of Agriculture (DA) and appropriate government agencies, to establish a National Agriculture and Fisheries Education System (NAFES).

The overall objective of NAFES is to establish, maintain and support a complete and integrated system of agriculture and fisheries education, which should result in the modernization and rationalization of agriculture and fisheries education from elementary to the tertiary levels. Also, NAFES will unify, coordinate and improve the system of implementation of academic programs to also help achieve agriculture and fisheries development in the country, and ensure sustainability and promote global competitiveness.

One of the programs or projects where SCUs can become strategic partners is attracting more of the youth to farming, which I think is logical considering there is a need to show graduating students, particularly those enrolled in agriculture and relevant courses, the potential of farming and agribusiness as a vocation or business.

Through a partnership among the DA, Go Negosyo, SCUs through CHED, government agencies and even private agribusiness companies, the higher education curriculum in agriculture and agribusiness can be vastly improved through knowledge sharing programs. The Young Entrepreneur-Farmers (YEF) of the Philippines under the Go Negosyo Kapatid Agri will be a good vehicle for this.

The partnership can also document best agricultural practices and share these with the youth, so more young people will be convinced to take up farming. And more importantly, the partnership, with the DA taking the lead, can provide agri-incentives, grants, affordable lending, targeted agribusiness training and scholarships.

Eventually, the partnership should result in the youth becoming agents of change for technology dissemination and service delivery systems.

When it comes to farm mechanization, the SCUs and R&D institutions, like the DA-Philippine Center for Postharvest Development and Mechanization, the Agriculture department itself and local manufacturers of farm equipment can form a partnership.

Local or even foreign manufacturers of farm machineries joining the partnership is crucial because that will allow small holder farmers to have access to improved and cost-efficient machineries. The partnership should also result in the transfer of technology through strategic contractual arrangements between local manufacturers and R&D institutions.

Eventually, the partnership should adopt a “winning strategy” and develop further farm machine fabrication capabilities of accredited local firms through the establishment of state-of-the-art common service facilities and equipment testing centers.

While strategic partnerships for agriculture projects and programs usually involve government agencies, R&D institutions, HEIs and stakeholders that are usually bonded by agreements, a type of partnership called the “Corporative Model” can be pursued, which is best suited for multi-agricultural ventures.

Usually, this type of partnership involves four major players: cooperative (for smallholder farmers); a corporation (preferably an established one); the academe through SCUs; and the market.

The role of a farmers’ association or cooperative under the arrangement is to produce raw materials and achieve economies of scale so they can offer their produce at a lower price to the manufacturing or processing company, which in turn should provide capital and inputs to the cooperatives.

SCUs, on the other hand, should provide technical know-how or even the transfer of proven farm technologies to the cooperatives. Also, the HEIs should undertake capacity building for farmers or even organize them into production blocks to help them achieve economies of scale.

And finally, the market itself is also a partner in the Corporative Model, because without the understanding of the dynamics or nature of the domestic and export markets, it would be impossible for the venture to become profitable for both the small farmers and the processing companies.

Market-led diversification combined with a partnership between agencies and the local government can also produce wonderful results, as demonstrated in the Yamang Lupa Program, which was piloted in the provinces of Quezon, Samar and Zamboanga Sibugay.

Yamang Lupa was essentially the adoption of Bhoochetana principles in the pilot sites that eventually resulted in increasing the income of farmers by about 20 percent. The main partners in the project were ICRISAT, DA-Bureau of Agricultural Research, DA-Bureau of Soils and Water Management, DA-High Value Crops Development Program, small holder farmers and local government units. Besides the adoption of Bhoochetana principles, smallholder farmers who participated in the Yamang Lupa program shifted to more profitable crops like groundnut, chickpea and pigeonpea.

Yamang Lupa’s success also clearly shows that the market itself should be included as a partner when it comes to forming strategic partnerships.


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