Farmer's Choice. A Day in the Life of a Trainer of Trainors

clip_image002_thumb[1]SANTA BARBARA, PANGASINAN: Not my wont, but I'm wearing a red t-shirt. I didn't plan this, but it's Friday, 15 November 2013, and today just happens to be a red-letter day. As you will find out.

I just woke up; it's 4 in the morning. I'm beginning to write this in one of the dorms of the Agricultural Training Institute (ATI) in their Region 1 Santa Barbara offices. I'm going to finish this probably in San Fernando, La Union tomorrow where we're going to train farmers under the ARCCESS project of the Philippine Department of Agrarian Reforms. ... Well, I'm finishing this Sunday, 17 November, 3 days later, at the Danggay House in Asingan, Pangasinan, my hometown. It's been a long day, and it's a long story.

We are a team of 3, now in Rissing, Bangar, La Union: Butchoy Espino (man in the image facing my camera), Team Leader; Dormie del Carmen, Crop Specialist; and I, Training Specialist. We are all graduates of the College of Agriculture of the University of the Philippines Los Baños (UPLB), the State University of Agriculture in the country.

ARCCESS is the Agrarian Reform Community Connectivity and Economic Support Services project of the DAR. We are 3 of the team consultants of UMIC International, based in Makati, and the ARCCESS farmers we are mentoring in La Union and Pangasinan provinces are old-new farmers who have become landonwers under a national agrarian reform program of the government. The creation of the DAR many years ago had given importance to the landless tenants equal to those of the landed farmers under the DA. Today we are going to find out that farmers are farmers, period. And that is paramount to us, because we have to know whom we are trying to teach – we have to learn from them first. If you cannot learn, you cannot teach.

As far as we are concerned, the ARCCESS Project started early last month, October, and this is our first coaching trip. We are making history now. We are sleeping at the ATI courtesy of the Department of Agriculture (DA); the DAR doesn't have what the DA has, which is a national training Institute with dorms and seminar rooms all over the country. What the DAR has is us, via consultancy, trainors of trainors. And what did I see when we visited the ATI dorm last Thursday, to sleep the night over? There was another training of trainors going on – the reservation signs at the doors said so.

This training trip is the first of UMIC's part of the ARCCESS project, the 2 topics being "Nutrient Management" and "Farm Business Planning." We are in a training program to teach the DAR farmers, as contrasted to the DA farmers, to handhold them on their first steps towards becoming successful and sustainable entrepreneurs. In the context of their communities.

Butchoy has been the explainer for the first 3 training sessions: the very 1st at the Atlas Mabuna Multi-Purpose Coop in Malasiqui and the 2nd at the Aramal-Tocok coop in San Fabian, both in Pangasinan. That was Friday. The 3rd was at the Rissing coop at Rissing in Bangar, La Union, a good 3 hours away from ATI Santa Barbara where we were staying; the 4th was at the Halog West coop at Tubao, La Union; Bangar is about 60 km away from Tubao.

Note that we are teaching farmer members of cooperatives, not simply farmers who comprise a group because they are attending the same training. I emphasize the membership of DAR farmers in coops, even as there is a special chapter in the new & improved Philippine Cooperative Code, RA 9520, Chapter XI titled "Agrarian Reform Cooperatives."

And I'm the next speaker, lecturer, explainer and mentor, and that will be next week, 22-23 November, with the same farmer participants of the ARBOs of Pangasinan and La Union. So we are going back to ATI in Santa Barbara and sleep there for another 2 nights. For the 2nd time, we are making history in that we are dealing with farmers who are members of a multi-purpose cooperative. I'm an active member of a multi-purpose cooperative in my hometown, so I should know a little about farmers and coops. The farmers must seek to be good farmers, and they must learn to be good coop members.

We have a list of 10 training modules with which to teach the DAR farmers, with schedules up to March 2014. In fact, we are going to teach them only one thing: For a good life, it's your decision. Farmer's Choice. For the 3rd time, we are making history in that this is the first time that farmers are being taught to become decision makers themselves, to become proactive, not simply reactive. The farmers must seek good agri advice, and then they must learn to act on their own.

Farmer's Choice is my invention of a name for the ARCCESS training we UMIC consultants are conducting for the DAR farmers of Pangasinan and La Union. The new term complements the more popular Farmer's Practice. In this case, Choice is a deliberate act, while Practice is an automatic response. We want the DAR farmers, or any farmer for that matter, to be deliberate in their actions, not simply creatures of habit.

And yes, we are training the trainors, the ones who are going to train the rest of their fellow farmers in their area. That requires that we from the University of the Philippines go down from our ivory towers and speak the language of the people.

Farmer's Choice. As we prepare our training modules to train those trainors, we have to remember only those 2 words. Of our training, our TOR states, "The target results should be new/improved businesses by the end of the learning process." We cannot promise about the businesses; we can only promise to produce new/improved farmers who can think for themselves, study the matter at hand, decide and take the risk on the action to take, making their own decisions for their own good.

We have to make the DAR farmers conscious of the fact that they are always making decisions – by itself, not making a decision is a decision, and it's a bad one. Of course, there are instances where there is no other choice, such as you have to prepare a business plan if you want to succeed in business – even if the plan is written only in your head.

Ultimately, what we're trying to do is mentor the DAR farmers on these 3 things simultaneously, that is:

(a) how to increase their harvest, at the same time

(b) how to decrease their costs, as well as

(c) how to increase their income from marketing.

Actually, that's 3 sources of increased income that is sustainable – that's also 3 sources of training success. How can we fail?!

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