Agrarian coops empowered? Ilocos Farmers-Entrepreneurs Training

maridelle umicBAGUIO CITY: How do you train agrarian reform farmers to be entrepreneurs? You reform them!

We are not looking for any paradigm shift but, you know, if you are creative, you will see your paradigm shifts when you are not paying attention to it. As the inventor of serendipity Henry Walpole puts it, serendipity is finding something you were not looking for.

It's Thursday, 01 August 2013. We are in Baguio City at the Conference Hall (4th Floor) of the Brentwood Apartelle at Brentwood Village off Teachers Camp. We are in a workshop with representative farmers of Agrarian Reform Beneficiaries' Organizations (ARBOs), which include coops and associations. They are from ARBOs of several towns in the provinces of Ilocos Norte, Ilocos Sur, La Union and Pangasinan in Region 1. There are about 100 warm bodies participating. Image shows Ms Maridelle Dizon, CEO of UMIC International, introducing her company's consultancy firm; UMIC is providing the agri-technology training and agri-extension services to the ARBO farmers in a 1-year project.

This is part of the project of the Department of Agrarian Reform (DAR) that it calls the Agrarian Reform Community Connectivity and Economic Support Services (ARCCESS). Today we are with Maridelle and VP for Operations Carmela Gan. I am part of the UMIC group of consultants; I am with Team Captain Butchoy Espino, Buddy Mabesa, Danny Evangelista, and Tony Frio, all alumni of the University of the Philippines Los Baños. We are here for the next 2 days, and I am the official OFW: Overall Facilitator of the Workshop.

During the opening ceremony, many things are said, but one statement stands out for me. Talking about sugarcane farmers, Seacrest CEO Violeta Gonzaga says her consultancy company has empowered the farmers of Negros, as shown by increases in their incomes. Seacrest will be monitoring & evaluating us. I want to ask her personally what she means exactly by empowerment, but I have no chance. Having worked with science information in and out of the Los Baños Science Community in the last 38 years, I know that the concept of empowerment has remained in theory and out of practice.

In fact, we are here in Baguio to make sure that model farmers of the ARBOs of Region 1 are empowered - so that they can help other farmers empower themselves. While the word "empowerment" is not the talk of the town and is not mentioned even once in the Terms of Reference (TOR) for UMIC as institutional services provider for the ARCCESS Project, from my reading of the project documents, I believe the concept is the essence of ARCCESS and as the OFW, somehow I must facilitate the discussion towards that end.

For background, let me note that the ARCCESS project is nationwide in scope. As I see them from the TOR, here are the 5 basic assumptions behind the services that we consultants of UMIC are providing for ARCCESS:

(1) Agrarian farmers must become entrepreneurs.
(2) Entrepreneurship must be based in an organized group, an ARBO in a village.
(3) Farmers to train must be selected from mature ARBOs.
(4) Training must be conducted to produce farmer models of entrepreneurship.
(5) To become entrepreneurs, farmers must be trained to be decision-makers first.

The TOR says ARCCESS came about as a response to the historical challenge posed by agrarian farmers selling or pawning the lands awarded to them. To me, that indicates the farmers' poverty of thinking about choices. So, we should not be surprised about the absence of sustainability of a rewarding life for the farmers. We have to help them help themselves.

Agrarian reform is not enough; there must be agrarian farmer reform.

(1) Agrarian farmers must become entrepreneurs.

The TOR says, "One of the keys to development rests in turning ARBOs into entrepreneurs." In fact, the very title of the TOR suggests this: "Market-Oriented Agri-Technology and Agri-Extension Services." As a farmer, you are the producer; you have to think in terms of the consumers of your produce.

Based on hindsight and insight, land distribution is not the end but rather the beginning of agrarian reform. The agrarian farmers must learn not only the new and improved practices in agriculture but also become managers of their own businesses, either crop-based, animal-based, or integrated. They must learn to plan, budget, organize and control their resources in order to tap the markets successfully. That's why I refer to it as Farmers-Entrepreneurs Training.

(2) Entrepreneurship must be based in an organized group, the ARBO in the village.

The TOR says, "The ARCCESS delivery is channeled through organizationally mature ARBOs that will serve as hub or center of support services not only of the ARBO but other ARBOs in the community. The Project notes that it is more effective and efficient if the point of entry of the agri-enterprise is through organized groups and not individuals. Moreover, the designation of mature ARBOs as hubs increases the chances of the program's success."

I believe that it takes a village to teach a village. Agrarian enterprises must emanate and be supported by the agrarian cooperative or association in that particular village. In this way, extension, business development services, and common service facilities (CSF) can be strategic and sustainable arising from economies of scale as well as from networking.

(3) Farmers to train must be selected from mature ARBOs.

The logic for this flows from Premise (2), that entrepreneurship must be based in an ARBO, not anywhere else. It follows that if the selected ARBO is already mature, that is, better performing than the others, there is a greater probability that the ARBO can and will support its member-farmer in becoming a businessman in both theory and practice.

The TOR says, "The ARCCESS shall build on the capacity of the ARBOs to manage the production, postharvest and processing needs of their individual members so that they are able to consolidate their farm produce, and in the process be able to reach economies of scale." To rephrase the Chinese saying, "Many hands make work light.[1]"

(4) Training must be conducted to produce farmer models of entrepreneurship.

We cannot train everybody at the same time. In the language of the diffusion of innovations, according to Everett Rogers, there are the innovators, early adopters, early majority, late majority, and laggards (Wikipedia). Entrepreneurs are risk-takers and, therefore, in the language of technology diffusion, they are the first actors in each little drama of development. We are interested in the vanguards when it comes to adopting, or adapting, innovations; farmers look up to and copy from the most successful of their kind, so advanced farmers must be trained to become models that other farmers can emulate.

(5) To become entrepreneurs, farmers must be trained to be decision-makers first.

The TOR lists "Provision of decision-support tools" as #1 of 5 key criteria to be developed and introduced in the ARCCESS Project, so that ARBOs and members "could decide on issues like markets and sources of supplies." The TOR warns that "Services providers must not, under any circumstance, force or influence ARBOs to decide on agri-technology, source of supplies, and markets."

So, this is the DAR's own paradigm shift. In this sense, the Department of Agrarian Reform (DAR) has reached the creative level of thinking that the Department of Agriculture (DA) has not:

The farmers must become entrepreneurs. To do that, they must learn to decide for themselves.

I must congratulate whoever conceived of the ARCCESS Project - it's great!

All that considered, as the OFW, I am working the whole night of Day 1 - I can't sleep - thinking of what to report on Day 2. The most important part of my report is to be the list of training needs already assigned to and contained within the Six Core Training Modules (CTMs) conceptualized by UMIC for the project:

1. The Farm, Its Enterprises & Decision-Making
2. Farm Resources Assessment & Appraisal
3. Analyzing Farm Enterprises, Profitability & Performance
4. Planning for the Market, Marketing Channels & Chains
5. Enterprise Budgeting, Planning & Management
6. Farm Investment & Risk Management

We are in Baguio at the workshop to validate the results of the Rapid Rural Appraisal (RRA) earlier conducted by another group for the ARCCESS Project. Before this, we the UMIC Team of Consultants had been discussing the training needs of the ARBOs as generated by the RRA, and we felt that we had to fine-tune the RRA list before we ourselves visited the farmers in the field and come up with a final list.

So, as the OFW, as designed by UMIC, I ask the workshoppers to (a) come up with a list of their needs and prioritize them, and (b) come up with a list of their training needs and prioritize them as well. There are 4 clusters in the workshop, and the 4 spokesmen discuss their own lists in front of everyone.

In Cluster 3's list of Needs, priority #16 stands out: "Hauling truck for rice & corn marketing business entrepreneur." Joking, I say, "You have a long list of needs, and since you listed the hauling truck as last priority, we will give you the hauling truck as last priority!" They laugh. Actually, we know farmers need it, but even if we wanted to, a grant of a hauling truck is out of the question for ARCCESS - this is a training project, period.

Cluster 2 (facilitated by Tony Frio) deserves Special Mention because they come up with their list of priority needs that matches exactly their list of training needs. I give them a grade of Excellent; I say so in public.

In the evening of Day 1, we the consultants look at the workshop lists of training needs and decide to which box (Core Training Module) each of those appropriate needs belonged to. The Team knows because we had previously discussed the RRA lists of training needs in at least 3 meetings. That done, the guys go to sleep. I cannot. As the OFW, I have a report to make the next day.

If you knew me, you wouldn't have been surprised to find me going over and over again my report that eventually came up to less than 300 words, including that table of CTMs and the new list of corresponding trainings to be conducted based on the training needs now fine-tuned. One reason I can't sleep is that I know, based on the Terms of Reference of the UMIC contract with the DAR for the ARCCESS Project, that this is crucial:

Provision of decision-support tools. The primary role of service providers is to provide capacity development to ARBOs and members so they could decide on issues like markets and sources of supplies.

That is to say, as the service provider, UMIC has to introduce into each training course or package the concept that the agrarian farmer must learn to think for himself, to decide for himself, not simply obey orders, not simply implement instructions. The training must teach him how to generate his options, choices, alternatives, and then how to decide, based on economic and other factors he must consider, which way to go. The farmer can never be an entrepreneur if he cannot generate of 2 or more windows of opportunity in any occasion, consult with others, and then go ahead and take the risk and make the business decision.

Finally, it dawns on me, very early morning of 02 August (Friday) that each of the 6 CTMs in fact indicates in its very title the basic premise that the agrarian farmer must learn to think through and decide for himself - note the underlined words:

1. The Farm, Its Enterprises & Decision-Making
2. Farm Resources Assessment & Appraisal
3. Analyzing Farm Enterprises, Profitability & Performance
4. Planning for the Market, Marketing Channels & Chains
5. Enterprise Budgeting, Planning & Management
6. Farm Investment & Risk Management

Nice work if you can get it!

The words of Ms Gonzaga on farmer empowerment still fresh in my mind, I tell the Baguio workshoppers, in a screen projection using huge letters (Arial Narrow, 39 pt), itals, about the essence of the Core Training Modules of UMIC, in 20 words:

Note all 6 modules indicate that
what is built-in or common is
decision-making by farmers -
this is true farmer empowerment.

ARCCESS: "The farmers must be trained to be decision-makers."
UMIC: "Our training modules are each designed to do exactly that, to empower them."

For those paradigm shifts, I say:

Congratulations, ARCCESS!
Congratulations, UMIC!

As for me, it has been a sleepless night, nonetheless a good night.

[1] The original Chinese saying is this: "Many hands make light work." That's not so clear, is it? My version is clearer, more direct: "Many hands make work light." Easy work!

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