Thursday, September 3, 2015

Albay solon hails agri-agencies' move to train Bicol farmers on entrepreneurship
By Danny O. Calleja

LIGAO CITY, Sept. 2 (PNA) -- Albay 3rd District Rep. Fernando Gonzalez has lauded a government project in Bicol aimed at producing agricultural entrepreneurs out of farmers in the region.

Called the Farm Business School (FBS), the project launched recently by the Departments of Agrarian Reform (DAR) and Agriculture (DA), is a collaborative effort under the government’s Capacity Building of Small Farmers in Entrepreneurship Development and Market Access (CBSFEDMA) program.

Supported by the Agricultural Training Institute (ATI) of the DA and by the United Nations’ Food and Agriculture Organization (UN-FAO), the FBS, according to DAR Regional Director Luis Bueno Jr., seeks, among others, to help farm families to access new markets and respond to the ever-changing market demands.

It will also provide farmers some learning experience about business and market trends in their own local environment through the learning-by-doing approach.

Initially, a total of 35 farmer-members of the Ayugan San Antonio Agrarian Reform Cooperative in Barangay San Antonio, Ocampo, Camarines Sur have been chosen to compose the first batch of trainees who are now undergoing a series of group-based experiential learning activities with the 25-day training sessions, Bueno said in Legazpi City the other day.

“We expect that after the training sessions being facilitated by the DA-ATI, the participants will develop their capability in running a profitable farm business for long-term income sustainability,” he said.

After this batch, the DAR regional chief said, the FBS will be radiated to other Bicol farming communities, especially agrarian reform beneficiaries (ARBs) to widen the reach of the CBSFEDMA program and multiply the number of Bicolano farmers engaged in agri-entrepreneurship.

In lauding the project, Gonzalez on Wednesday said “it is a brilliant idea as entrepreneurship is one effective way for our farmers to improve their purchasing power leading to a more progressive economic life for their families.”

It is in harmony with his advocacy towards the reversal of the situation wherein farm folk, the most dominant in number in every rural community, are counted as among the poorest sector of the present local society, he said.

In Albay alone, which had a household population of 255,672 representing a total population of over 1.2 million as per official survey in 2010, he said over 100,000 families rely on farming for their livelihood as recorded by the Bureau of Agricultural Statistics (BAS).

These farming families are well within the 36.1-percent poverty incidence of the province as determined by the Philippine Statistics Authority (PSA) based on its 2012 survey.

This poverty incidence places Albay in the second spot next to Masbate among Bicol’s six provinces; the fifth in Luzon; and the 17th among the 81 provinces of the country -- in term of poverty plaguing families, according to the PSA.

“Something must be wrong somewhere, but whatever it is, the province’s agricultural sector, especially the rice-based community, needs to be empowered with the capability to earn more to raise their purchasing power and produce more for the country’s food security agenda,” Gonzalez said.

Producing more alone will not totally liberate farmers from poverty because it is the farm-based business sector that reaps more profit as it monopolizes the acquisition of harvest and dictates stock movements and prices, he lamented.

Gonzalez cited the case of his district’s rice farmers, particularly in this city, where harvests have been good since the past two years inspired by sufficient post-harvest facilities, adaptation of latest farming technologies and the efficiency of its irrigation systems.

The district is considered the rice granary of Albay but the problem is the prices that dip during harvest season as dictated by the law of supply and demand—which rice traders have been used to taking advantage of by buying all the stocks they could haul, he said.

“That would not be true should our farmers be themselves entrepreneurs, enabling them to resist the dictates of big-time private traders,” the congressman said.

As entrepreneurs, he said farmers, could do strategic planning, negotiation, marketing, form cooperatives and even convert their produce to finished goods as an option from regular farming.

What they need to be entrepreneurs are entrepreneurial skills that can be acquired through training from government experts; storage-cum-processing facilities that the local and national agencies can provide; and capital that they can raise by way of organizing themselves into cooperatives, Gonzalez said.

His office, covering this city and the six Albay municipalities of Guinobatan, Oas, Jovellar, Pioduran, Libon and Polangui—all highly agricultural areas, is now contemplating on finding measures to get local farmers into successful entrepreneurship ventures and this DAR-DA project is a welcome development, he added.

During the FBS launch in Camarines Sur, the DA said agriculture is the economic growth driver of Bicol that is why part of DA’s advocacy is to train farmers as entrepreneurs.

The DA Research Outreach Stations in Bicol provinces are also developing agricultural trading hubs for farmers while training-seminars on entrepreneurship, salesmanship and pricing as well as orientations on business operation and management of barangay food terminals are also provided.

The DA has also built several farm gate trading hubs called Agri-Pinoy Trading Center (APTC) for farmers and fishermen in the region.

As a positive impact of the facility, it lessens the trading layers and participation of intermediaries, resulting in higher farm gate and market price as additional logistics and transfer cost; transport and hauling subsidy of at least five percent are enjoyed by farmers, owing to the provision of trucking facility in the collection and distribution of farm produce.

There are already two—one in Camarines Sur and another one in Masbate—of this kind of facility in Bicol and more are in the pipeline. (PNA) LAP/FGS/DOC/CBD/RSM