WHEN one visits the countryside, a glaring sight one can see is the abject poverty of farmers. One begins to wonder why, despite all the technological revolutions that have taken place in agriculture, Filipino farmers are still quite unproductive. A quick look at our Asian neighbors would show that we are lagging far behind in farm productivity. No wonder, incomes of most Filipino farmers are still way below the poverty line.
The question why Filipino farmers are poor is not easy to answer. The problems involved are complex but a deeper understanding of the situation points out to the lack of educational opportunities given to farmers and their children who will soon take over their job of farming. Agricultural education in the country has also been skewed toward producing scientists and technologists but not agriculture entrepreneurs.
Webster defines an entrepreneur as ?one who organizes, manages, and assumes risks of a business enterprise.? In the context of agriculture, a farm is a business enterprise. It is the productive unit in the economy that produces products from plants and animals. Thus, an agriculture entrepreneur is one who is engaged in a farm business. Like all businesses, it requires entrepreneurial and managerial skills for a person to make it succeed. Like all skills, entrepreneurship and management can be learned.
Our educational system is under criticism that it fosters an ?employee mentality? among our students and graduates. And rightly so. It did a reasonable job at preparing graduates for employment. Yet it still has to prove itself in producing entrepreneurs. Some schools that have offered entrepreneurship programs over the past few years have shown some success. The challenge is more daunting to produce entrepreneurs for the agriculture sector.
Agriculture entrepreneurship development
An agriculture entrepreneurship development program to my mind has two very important and distinct clienteles: (1) the present farmers and (2) the future farmers.
1.) The present farmers
The narrow base of education and widespread illiteracy in the rural areas (a typical farmer only reached Grade 5) and the rapid rate of technological change in a modernizing agriculture are arguments for a widespread adult education system. These two conditions determine the nature of adult education programs. Following the American pattern and later adopted by most countries, a widespread adult education for farmers is commonly called extension programs.
Farmers should be the primary clientele of adult or extension programs in rural areas. These programs are normally oriented toward the production problems of farmers. Although uncommon, it is reasonable to conceive of adult education programs catering to other groups, such as middlemen and traders who serve the farmer locally. Technological changes in marketing, farm input manufacture and supply and in other areas all call for the expansion of knowledge of the operators of such businesses.
Production-oriented extension programs have three primary roles and objectives
a) To stimulate a framework of farmer attitudes and aspirations conducive to the acceptance of technological change. This may represent the most important function in the early stages of agricultural development, when farmers are still largely tradition-bound and just beginning to emerge from a period when change in general had unprofitable results.
b) To disseminate the results of production-increasing research. An ancillary function, and one which may in fact be the most important, is to provide feedback about farmers? problems to research organizations. This requires extension programs to be closely tied to research organizations such that clear communication in both directions is not only possible but probable.
c) To provide training and guidance to farmers in decision-making. Even initially, one technological innovation will produce varied results when applied to farmers with different conditions. Good farm management involves the selection of appropriate and profitable innovations and the rejection of those not meeting these criteria. Since blanket recommendations are not applicable, it is important that farmers learn to make the proper judgments as to which innovations to adopt. A good extension program should provide the means to do so.
I would like to highlight what I think is most relevant for adult farmer education?the need for concrete farm models, of actual functioning farm enterprises, where farmers can see for themselves how things should be done. These can serve as farmers field schools. As the adage goes, ?To see is to believe.?
The challenge here is how to gear up our government agencies involved in training and extension work to reach out to farmers. What has been done in the past seem not working if we are to judge the situation of our farmers today.
On the side of the private sector, there are a number of initiatives geared toward the education of the present farmers. To name a few: The Mindanao Baptist Rural Life Center in Dansalan of the Rev. Watson fame who developed the Sloping Agriculture Land Technology, the Aloha House in Puerto Princesa, and the Community Business Technology Centers promoted by the Foundations for People Development. These projects have proven that, in fact, education and training of present farmers is still possible to give them new technologies to increase farm productivity and incomes.
Given these experiences, what needs to be done now is a strong public-private partnership to provide support to these private initiatives to reach out to more farmers. Government may provide tuition, board and lodging to farmers undergoing these training programs.
(The article reflects the personal opinion of the author and does not reflect the official stand of the Management Association of the Philippines. The author is vice chairman of the MAP AgriBusiness and Countryside Development Committee, and Dean of the MFI Farm Business School. Feedback at email@example.com. For previous articles, visit www.map.org.ph.)