ECONOMY | AGRICULTURE
To encourage agri-innovations, policy makers need to document best practices and success stories
- Efforts of the Department of Agriculture in enhancing the agricultural extension service capacities of local government units (LGUs) towards maximizing the use of increased fiscal resources arising from the implementation of full devolution in 2022 need to be more widely disseminated and appreciated by the public.
- While roadmaps and development plans are essential in providing agriculture stakeholders an overarching framework, reinvigorating interest in farming and stimulating agri-innovations needs concrete models that can be replicated across a diverse range of local circumstances.
- A number of success stories in the private sector such as Hineleban Farms in Bukidnon Province are widely covered by mainstream and social media and marketed through emergent digital experience-oriented platforms.
- However, to truly enable collaboration between the private and public sectors towards enhancing agricultural productivity and stimulating innovations, policymakers should, as a prerequisite to technical planning and program development, commission research that documents and benchmarks these success stories, and disseminate high-impact knowledge products to the public
Planting the future
From steering President Rodrigo Duterte’s “Plant, Plant, Plant” Program towards the realization of its goals to co-convening the “Pilipinas Kontra Gutom” multi-sectoral initiative that aims to reduce the incidence of hunger among Filipinos, as well as various other initiatives responding to more immediate and pressing needs arising from the Covid-19 pandemic, the challenges of the digital new normal, and strengthening the resilience of farmers, fisherfolk, and associated agriculture sub-sectors against natural calamities, the Department of Agriculture has had its hands full over the past couple of years.
Faced with the massive task of reversing what the government’s central planning agency in a 2019 policy note described as a decade-long downward trend in sectoral employment, wide productivity gaps, declining interest among young people, and increasing availability of wage and non-wage opportunities in the services and industrial sectors, the country’s agriculture authorities are rightfully pursuing aggressive and creative strategies in realizing their mandate.
The impending full devolution of national government functions to local government units arising from the implementation of the Mandanas-Garcia rulings of the Supreme Court that would among others, increase local fiscal resources and streamline local roles and responsibilities, is an opportunity to address gaps that have subverted previous efforts to revitalize the sector.
With local governments being capacitated in preparation for the full implementation of devolution in 2022, the success or failure of agriculture authorities in laying the foundations for a more pro-active and coordinated agriculture development strategy at the local level will determine the future of the country’s farms, forests, livestock, and fishing grounds.
Two factors will be key: communication and convergence.
Anyone who closely looks into and reads all the information provided in the Department of Agriculture’s online portals and listens to its top officials led by the visionary Secretary William Dar, would be easily convinced that the agency is doing a lot. Sincere and strategic in its initiatives at that.
But as it is with any organization engaged across multiple fronts, the message can be easily diluted or even lost amidst the hustle.
For an agency with a message that is increasingly unappetizing, riding on what presently preoccupies the popular imagination is a more effective route rather than plowing through disinterested publics. In light of the collective anxieties almost universally shared during this pandemic, agriculture authorities would do well to make the most out of two central fears today: hunger and sustainability.
Agency-led campaigns encouraging urban and peri-urban community gardening as well as vertical farming, enabling farming cooperatives, mainstreaming and broadening access to organic farming certification, and promoting regenerative agricultural practices are on the right track.
But to truly draw out-of-agriculture migrants back into cultivating the fields, no amount of technical knowledge transfers, capacity building, financial assistance or grants, and social media “virality” will be able to beat examples and cases of success stories that embody the best practices consultants and trainers can only talk about in theoretical or even strategic planning terms.
Science, theory, and frameworks as well as guides are all important as in any development initiative. But again, without comparable benchmarks that the target audience can take apart, examine in all its details, phases, stages, potentials and risks, these will all remain abstract or at least contestable. And most especially so for rural farming residents who know too well the earth – its tempers and vulnerabilities to the elements.
National and local agriculture authorities can easily find these benchmarks and agriculture success stories highly marketed across various channels and platforms – Theo and Philo, Hineleban Farms, and Malagos Chocolate just to name a few.
Hineleban’s is a deeply interesting proposition – one that simultaneously addresses the two-fold communication and convergence needs of the country’s agriculture authorities and two central conversations today – hunger and sustainability.
Through its adlai (an heirloom grain and rice substitute with a low glycemic index), coffee, and turmeric farming partners across Bukidnon Province, Hineleban Foundation is building and empowering indigenous people communities, promoting regenerative agriculture, and bringing together government and corporate entities towards a common advocacy.
Now how to farm?
The success stories of Hineleban and other agro- and fishery ventures across the Philippines can easily dazzle and excite. Stories and narratives of their contributions to revitalizing agriculture, contributing to environmental sustainability, and uplifting the lives of communities are easy to find. What is missing – and what local agriculture authorities should be more aggressively mainstreaming – is the nitty gritty of how these endeavors were established, their organizational dynamics, financial models – in many ways, their entire business and operational frameworks that contributed to success.
Without these information – either gathered through research or volunteered by the organizations – the enormity of the challenges involved in replicating (and re-configuring across varying circumstances) their successes can easily dishearten a small, even if visionary, farming community or “agripreneur”.
Research is only the first part however. And as a benchmarking kind, it must thoroughly examine all the dimensions of the model, that is across its operational, technical, scientific, and even historical aspects – knowledge and information that are hard to come by, owing to the nature of business and market protocols.
This is where policy becomes significant. Encouraging and bringing together these success stories into a wider project of sharing information that matter to the local farmer requires a mutually beneficial framework. One that sustains and protects vested rights of already established benchmarks while simultaneously enabling the diffusion of knowledge for replication.
Finally, the research and its underlying policy framework would need to be packaged and communicated through engaging and high-impact knowledge products and information education initiatives that cut across the diversity of audience and channels present today.
The Center for Local Innovation and Capacity Development (CLICDPH, Inc.) conducts research, develops knowledge products and bespoke training and capacity development services that can assist national and local agriculture policymakers in bridging information gaps for more responsive policy making. Reach us through: [email protected].