Paradigm shift: how to train farmers become good entrepreneurs
Former Agriculture Secretary William Dar has been pushing for a paradigm shift in the agriculture sector as one of the ways to improve the supply chain in this industry and somehow, uplift the lives of the farmers.
But Dar himself has one question: “how to do it?”. And for the most part, he thinks it’s mostly the government’s job.
In one of his recent columns, Dar couldn’t emphasize it enough how the government should work to increase the number of Micro, Small and Medium Enterprises (MSMEs) in the agriculture sector.
“Agripreneurship will be the game changer that will result in the agriculture sector contributing more to the country’s gross domestic product (GDP), employment opportunities, and shared prosperity for all,” Dar said.
This, according to him, will require the crafting of programs for agripreneurship by government agencies and local government units (LGUs).
Based on the research of InangLupa, which DAR has founded, MSMEs comprise 99.6 percent of the 900,914 business enterprises in the Philippines but less than 8,195 or below 1 percent of MSMEs are involved in the agriculture, forestry and fishing industries.
Right now, Dar said the Philippines only has two farm export commodities – banana and coconut – that earn one billion dollars each every year.
This, while our neighboring country Thailand boasts of rice, natural rubber, prepared fish, sugar, prepared chicken, starch, prepared shrimp, animal feed and food preparations.
Vietnam, on the other hand, earns more than $1 billion every year through exporting rice, coffee beans, shrimps, fish fillet, cashew nuts, natural rubber, prepared shrimp and pepper.
“Now, don’t tell me that Filipino entrepreneurs or farmers, given the right support, cannot produce all of the top farm exports of Thailand and Vietnam! Yes we can, and we should create the environment for agripreneurship to take root so we can export more farm products in raw or processed form, and supply the local market with more affordable and higher quality farm products, and industries with their farm-based raw materials, among others,” Dar said.
At last, he said that government agencies should converge, explaining it that while it should be the Department of Agriculture (DA) that should take the lead in initiating the paradigm shift toward agripreneurship, LGUs and other government agencies like the Department of Agrarian Reform (DAR), Department of Trade and Industry (DTI), Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR), Department of Interior and Local Government (DILG), Department of Science and Technology (DOST), and Commission of Higher Education (CHED) should also take part.
Eventually, Dar said that Higher Education Institutions (HEIs), particularly agriculture-based state universities and colleges (SUCs) through CHED, should also reinvent their Science, Technology, Engineering, Agriculture, and Mathematics (STEAM)-based curricula in order to weave into these courses the art and science of agripreneurship.
“Through this, those taking up entrepreneurship or agripreneurship develop an understanding and appreciation of R&D technologies and innovations in modernizing farming systems and creating value-added products with export potential,” the former agri chief further said.
It is also the intent for the SUCs concerned to produce graduates who will implement inclusive agribusiness thereby creating more incomes, more jobs and more wealth for the country.
“I also believe that the paradigm shift toward agripreneurship should also start at elementary and high school, so young people can appreciate agriculture and agricultural enterprises at a young age, and embrace agripreneurship as they advance their learning and studies. I hope the Department of Education would strongly consider this,” Dar said.
He also pointed out that the government must not overlook the out-of-school youth who can be trained to initially become farmers and eventually agripreneurs under the Technical Education and Skills Development Authority (TESDA).
TESDA and LGUs can take the lead on this and link up with concerned institutions in training out-of-school youth.
Elephant in the room
Eventually, the elephant in the room must be recognize: funds are needed and where are we going to get them?
Aside from the funds to be allotted by each government agency, Dar suggested that the administration must create special lending windows for aspiring agripreneurs, which charge lower interest rates and a system to invite venture capitalists to invest in technology business incubation and in the new undertakings of agripreneurs.
“The DA, DTI, DAR and CHED can also put up an agripreneurship fund where graduates of agripreneurship (or even agribusinesses) can get grants (not loans) to undertake agricultural enterprises based on the feasibility studies developed during their apprenticeship with the industry for their future ventures,” Dar said.
“And never to be overlooked is assistance from the government agencies, LGUs and even SUCs in linking agripreneurs to the market, because a business enterprise needs a market to become profitable so it can sustain its long-term operations and also produce more jobs,” he added.