For agriculture to be sustainable, it must be profitable. NGOs can play a big role in making this happen. They can be the catalysts for the creation of agriculture anchors that will make farmers profitable using economies of scale in technology transfer, selling and purchasing.
When farmers and fisherfolk act individually with no central group catalyzing their coordination, their efforts often do not achieve the desired results. This is because in our globally competitive economy, effectiveness and efficiency in the delivery of the desired goods is necessary. Though small is beautiful, small often dies. This is because when a small group is not coordinating with other small entities, it does not achieve the necessary economies of scale for success.
For example, small land reform beneficiaries are successful in what used to be a Dole plantation because of economies of scale catalyzed by an anchor, that is the Dole processing plant. The anchor gives support services such as technology transfer, purchasing and selling.
The Kapampangan Development Foundation (KDF) is an NGO of Kapampangans organized in 1986. It embarks on activities in the Kapampangan Region (which encompasses much of Region 3) in the areas of health, livelihood and culture.
In health, one of its recent achievements is the only hospital in Asia which gives free health services to disabled indigent patients. Networking with other NGOs like Rotary Clubs and government agencies like the Department of Social Welfare and Development, KDF set-up with the Datu-Angeles-David families the Doctor Jesus Datu Hospital in Bacolor, Pampanga.
The current KDF chair is PLDT’s Manuel Pangilinan; its president is former Clark Development Corp. president Benigno Ricafort. Pangilinan recently asked KDF to concentrate on livelihood. What makes the KDF approach unique is that it intends to do strategic and profitable livelihood activities using the anchor approach. Since its founding in 1986, the KDF is known to achieve its effectiveness primarily through its networking with NGOs and government agencies.
Yesterday, the first major livelihood project with the anchor approach was done using the same networking philosophy with strong Department of Agriculture support. This project was a whole-day forum on fruit tree dispersal. The objective was to get both businessmen and farmers together to learn from Bernie Dizon the profitable technology of double or triple rootstock planting. This was originally advocated by former UPLB dean Dioscoro Umali.
Using this technology, trees that ordinarily yield high value fruits in more than six years can yield these fruits in as short as two years. This is because the double or triple root system gives the main plant double or triple the nutrients and other benefits from a single root system.
But to have a successful anchor approach, technology transfer by itself will not work. Leading agri-businessmen and farmer leaders were invited during the forum to serve as potential anchors for high value fruits such as lanzones (or longkong), rambutan and durian. These anchors would help nearby farmers not only with technology transfer but also marketing contracts and the inputs necessary for a profitable fruit tree venture. These include seedlings and production inputs, marketing contracts and even financial loans and assistance. Two objectives would then be met: improving farmer welfare and achieving sustainable profits.
Government assistance is valuable, but the government does not know business. We need anchors run by the private sector to radiate the catalytic effect to the surrounding farmer communities. The small farmers can unite using economies of scale catalyzed by these anchors.
In many areas today, small farmers are not united because there is no anchor. The NGOs can take on a paradigm shift and focus on helping organize and mobilize these anchors.
For the Filipino small farmers today, agriculture is not profitable. This is because we lack the anchors present in countries like Taiwan and Thailand where agriculture is very profitable. Like KDF, other NGOs can focus on helping create and mobilize these anchors. It is the change necessary to make our agriculture profitable, sustainable and a key to the country’s inclusive growth.
(The author is chair of Agriwatch, former secretary for Presidential Flagship Programs and Projects, and former undersecretary for agriculture and trade and industry. For inquiries and suggestions, email firstname.lastname@example.org or telefax (02) 8522112).