Investing in our people: The Filipino College Fund
In 2009, the Foundations for People Development (FPD) took the lead in crafting an educational program that addresses the need to provide manpower to fuel the growth of the agricultural and rural areas in the Philippines.
All these years of economic growth have not succeeded in developing these sectors. Proofs are that rural areas are not developing as fast as their urban counterparts; the gap between the rich and the poor is still very wide; and the poorest of the poor are found in the rural areas, where the great majority are still dependent on subsistence agriculture and fishing as their way of survival.
This also explains why urban areas have large squatter colonies. With these stark realities, one can make the conclusion that past efforts to develop agriculture have generally been a failure.
What has gone wrong with Philippine agriculture? Definitely, there are many factors that will explain this sad state.
Policies in the past, for example, favored industrial development over agriculture.
Agriculture has also been made the milking cow by many people in the guise of helping the poor farmers, like the coconut levy.
Also, subsidies to the rice industry in the form of fertilizers, pesticides, farm equipment and machinery ended up benefiting some bureaucrats in the form of commissions and handsome profits to suppliers. Price support programs implemented by the National Food Authority (NFA) also benefited the traders more than the farmers. More examples abound.
One missing element in our strategy for agricultural and rural development is the lack of education and training programs for the farmers and their children.
Every year, when the Department of Science and Technology (DoST) posts in major newspapers the list of scholars for its programs, I can only wish that a similar program be launched by the Department of Agriculture (DA).
If DoST can justify this because of manpower needs for science and technology, why not the DA since agriculture too needs to prepare future generations of agripreneurs?
It is not known to many people that DoST—not the Department of Education —has the Philippine Science High School system under its wings.
For me, the real problem of Philippine agriculture is not the lack of rice produced by our farmers but the lack of young people who don’t see a future in the business of producing food for our population.
Yet, every year, we pay billions of dollars for the milk, corn, pork, chicken, beef, fruits, vegetables, coffee, cacao, and many more products that we need to feed our people, both in urban and rural areas.
If only these products are produced locally, then the billions of dollars that we pay farmers in other countries can fuel our rural economies and make these communities markets for consumer products produced by our industries.
When this happens, then the whole economy will grow much more than the annual GDP growth rates we were seeing the past decades.
Breaking new paths
But it is useless to cry over spilled milk. What is of positive note in our country is that the private sector, especially non-government organizations (NGOs), is very active in areas where government has failed to deliver on its promises.
One concrete example that comes to mind is the initiative taken by the Management Association of the Philippines (MAP). In 2004, it launched its Farm Business School project with the idea that this “specialized” business school shall produce the farm supervisors, farm managers, and agriculture entrepreneurs so badly needed in our country.
The first to adopt this project is the MFI Foundation. It opened its Farm Business School in 2009 located in Jala-Jala, Rizal. This was followed by the Palawan Farm Business School that started last year in Puerto Princesa City under the auspices of the FPD and MFI Foundation.
Right now, there are interested parties in the Visayas and Mindanao wanting to establish their own Farm Business Schools.
Still a challenge
Since these Farm Business Schools target children of small farmers, how are they to benefit from the program since most likely their parents cannot afford to send them to school?
For the proponents of the Farm Business School, how can these schools be sustained since tuition is the lifeline?
When MFI Foundation started its Farm Business School, its board of trustees made a condition that it could not afford to provide full scholarships to the students. For more than 35 years, it has given scholarships to poor and deserving students to enrol in its Technological Institute and various school-partners but experience shows that this is not viable in the long-run.
Thus, the foundation opted to offer students a “study now and support a scholar later scheme.” This is the formula that was adopted for students at the MFI Farm Business School. Students should realize that other people in fact are investing in their future and for doing so it should be “paid forward” so that future students would also benefit.
For sponsors of our students like the MFI Foundation, Development Bank of the Philippines (DBP), DA-Agricultural Training Institute (ATI), Philex Mining Corporation, and partner LGUs, they are not expecting to be paid back but that they do expect their beneficiaries pay it forward.
When the FPD partnered with the ATI for a ladderized program for out-of-school youth, the condition is that FPD should raise half of the counterpart funding from other parties. This way, ATI can spread out its limited budget to more beneficiaries. Thus, the project was launched early part of 2010 as a Public-Private Partnership (PPP) arrangement.
For the first batch of 31 students from Benguet and Negros Oriental, Philex Mining Corp. and the FPD provided counterpart funding for the setting up of Community Business Technology Centers (CBTCs) where students do their on-the-job training.
These CBTCs include farm projects related to aquaculture, piggery, coffee, meat processing, vegetables, cattle fattening, vermiculture, and others.
Here, students actually put in their “sweat equity” as a way of paying for their education.
For the second batch of 35 students in Palawan, FPD partnered with the provincial government and the two congressmen of the province to provide counterpart funding. FPD also invited agripreneurs to host students in their farms for three months each semester and they also commit time to mentor these students on the rudiments of their farm business.
These examples show us that there is a way to afford good quality education and training for poor students so that they acquire the skills and aptitudes to succeed in life later as agripreneurs. This type of partnership is truly an investment to lift people out of poverty and, if they do succeed in life, our hope is that they also pass this same privilege to the younger generation. Truly, this is “paying it forward” for the favor they are now receiving.
To institutionalize this type of financing program for educating the less privileged, FPD has dubbed this the FILIPINO COLLEGE FUND. It has partnered with other scholarship granting groups so that jointly, they can make the impact of the Filipino College Fund greater and reach more young people. Additional partners in the project are the Sapientes Miletes Scholarship Foundation and the Philippine Federation of Family Farm and Rural Development Schools. The former provides scholarships to military officers for their graduate studies and dependents of military personnel for their college education. The latter provides scholarships for a unique high school education and now would like to provide their graduates a chance to enrol in college and post-secondary programs.
If you are interested in sponsoring a student in any of these programs or help in other ways, please get in touch with me through my mobile 09285048539 or e-mail [email protected] so I can provide a link to the appropriate organization depending on your interest.
(The author is vice chairman of the Agribusiness and Countryside Development Committee of the Management Association of the Philippines and dean of the MFI Farm Business School. Feedback at [email protected] For previous articles, visit www.map.org.ph.)
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