LOS BAÑOS, Laguna, Philippines – The Southeast Asian Regional Center for Graduate Study and Research in Agriculture (SEARCA) conducted its 29th SEARCA Online Learning and Virtual Engagement (SOLVE) webinar titled Declining Agricultural Productivity: Farm Clustering Strategies on 12 May 2021 via Zoom and Facebook Live.
The webinar aimed to enhance public knowledge on farm consolidation models and programs in the Philippines and Cambodia. The presenters were Mr. Rodolfo Vicerra, Undersecretary for Policy and Planning of the Department of Agriculture (DA), Philippines, and Dr. Buntong Borarin, Director of Research and Extension of the Royal University of Agriculture (RUA), Cambodia.
Mr. Vicerra highlighted the need to change the way agriculture is being done in the Philippines. Presenting the state of Philippine agriculture, he said the sector contributes only 10 percent of the gross domestic product (GDP), indicating a need for better distribution in employment. Data also showed that the country is not self-sufficient in terms of commodities such as rice, coffee, beef, pork, garlic, etc. In terms of land holdings, the farm sector is mostly individual proprietorships and only very few are in organized groups. While there may be a wide variety of agricultural support services available, the challenge remains that there is a need for a better way to reach the country’s 10 million farmers and fisherfolks. Farmers are faced with difficulties such as inadequate infrastructures, frequency of calamities, environmental degradation, lack of access to credit, and weakness in governance, among others. Through the Farm and Fisheries Clustering and Consolidation (F2C2) program, the DA pushes to organize agriculture sector actors using a value-chain approach that will allow for improvement in the overall productivity and income of the sector. It is the government’s way of reaching out to the farmers through regional offices, linking up with local government units (LGUs) through revitalization of the extension systems. A crucial aspect of the F2C2 program is its proposal to engage professional managers to help manage farm production, as it is believed that they can better understand the technologies and knowledge to overcome the stumbling blocks in enabling farmers to improve their productivity. Mr. Vicerra emphasized the need to rework agriculture production systems and improve access to inputs, credit, markets, and technology to better assist producers. This can be done if the focus is shifted on organizing farmers and fisherfolks to reach each one of them.
Similarly, farming systems in Cambodia also experience difficulties. Dr. Borarin shared an overview of their agriculture sector’s performance, reporting that its share in GDP is also the least among all sectors. This reflects various agricultural productivity challenges that include water supply, soil fertility, access to good quality seeds, pest and diseases, poor agronomic practices, socio-economic profile of farmers, and aging farmers. To help address these problems, the government encourages small-scale farmers to consolidate and work together so that it will be easy to reach them and provide support. He cited the case of safe vegetables in Cambodia, where consumers demand for quality vegetables, but the markets have limited supply stock. Some farmers were able to produce safe vegetables, but there is a challenge to market access and in connecting with consumers. To overcome these constraints, RUA, where Dr. Borarin is connected, cultivates collaborative relationships to lead to sustainable solutions in farming practices. These include multifaceted factors such as improving technology and farming activities, as well as addressing social issues. Savings Groups were created as a platform for collaboration for development of relevant solutions such as information sharing, technical support, access to affordable loans, savings for capital investments, and promoting joint community investment. Like in the Philippines, a value-chain approach is promoted where all actors collaborate to work on major constraints such as farmer linkages to consumers. Such strategy to farmer consolidation helped in addressing the inefficiencies in farming practices. Through the Savings Groups, Dr. Borarin shared that upscaling in Cambodia was made possible and there was better crop and vegetable production.
In the open forum that followed, the speakers addressed questions and comments from participants about the incentives for farmers to join farm clustering and consolidation. This included sustainability initiatives for farmers by encouraging them to group together. A discussion about the roles of government and private industries in helping scale out farm practices also took place. It was emphasized how groups like agricultural cooperatives are a good strategy to overcome the geographic challenges of reaching farmers and fisherfolks.
In culmination of the 29th SOLVE webinar, Mr. Vicerra reiterated on the need to organize farmers and fisherfolks into clusters for better production systems. Dr. Borarin added, “the government gives attention to developing different kinds of farm clusters for farmers to have better bargaining powers for consolidated produce in both domestic and export markets. But to be successful, technology and research have to be strengthened. Consolidated farms need technology to improve their farming practices. Research plays an important role, too, to strengthen the agriculture sector.”