ASEAN arm SEARCA has supported the development of organized and skilled farmers that now form part of Grow Asia, a farm production partnership platform that’s benefitting 117,000 smallholders in coconut, coffee, corn, fisheries, and vegetables.
The Southeast Asian Regional Center for Graduate Study and Research in Agriculture reported that Grow Asia, through its Philippines Partnership for Sustainable Development, has become a successful farm partnership model.
Bernie S. Justimbaste and Edwin P. Bacani reported in the SEARCA-published “Competency Certification for Agricultural Workers in Southeast Asia” that Grow Asia has demonstrated farming models that now integrate small farm owners into the big ASEAN value chain.
ASEAN (Association of South East Asian Nations) co-founded Grow Asia with the World Economic Forum.
Grow Asia-PPSD has built synergies between different value chain players in agriculture. It facilitates delivery of many interventions including agricultural and technical-vocational (Tech-Voc) skills training in the production of these farm products:
Coconut—Grow Asia-PPSD is providing a Mindanao-based program multiple interventions in farmers’ production of coconut water: development of skills and know-how in coconut intercropping, replanting, and market access. Partners in this program are Unilever, Friends of Hope, and KFI Center for Community Development.
Coffee—Ten cooperatives in Tagbina, Surigao del Sur are being helped by a Nestle project through technical assistance, intercropping know-how, provision of quality planting materials (Robusta coffee), and establishment of market. Macnut Philippines is also involved in contract growing and buy-back of Arabica coffee. This project has 15 other partners including the Philippine Coffee Alliance.
Corn — Farmers in Zamboanga del Norte have been connected through ZMDC Grains Inc. to a hog farmers’ cooperative in Batangas (to buy corn). Aside from skills training, interventions include credit and post-harvest technologies. Partners here are Pioneer and 8 other agencies including Philippine Maize Federation Inc.
Fisheries—A hatchery for mudcrab for export has been constructed that is supporting 1,000 farmers. Interventions are working capital credit, know-how on the development of loan products and business development, and technical assistance via the Zamboanga Peninsula-wide baseline and performance indicators system. The project has 8 other partners including Dipolog School of Fisheries.
Vegetables—Interventions in this Zamboanga program include design of vegetable supply chain from quality seeds to the sale of vegetables to supermarkets. Other interventions are credit, post-harvest facility, and a water management system. Partners are East West Seed, Jollibee, and Zamboanga local government unit.
SEARCA has supported the replication of such farm production model as that of Grow Asia. This, as Grow Asia-PPSD has proven to foster skills capability building of agriculture human resource, a major SEARCA function being ASEAN’s graduate education and research center.
This mandate involves not only development of academic or entrepreneurial agriculture skills but also Tech-Voc farm skills to help improve the labor force in ASEAN agriculture.
SEARCA has actively supported Tech-Voc Education and Training (TVET) since it was tapped by ASEAN education ministers (SEAMEO) to lead a research on competency certification for agricultural workers in Southeast Asia.
SEARCA Director Glenn B. Gregorio said a common competency certification system among ASEAN countries will enable freer exchange of farmworkers between countries.
ASEAN countries are working toward one ASEAN Qualifications Reference Framework (AQRF) in order to allow this matching of farm skills and competencies between countries.
Gregorio said the AQRF recognizes both non-formal and informal learning in assessing farmworkers’ skills level and qualifications.
“The AQRF would benefit agricultural workers as they acquire skills and knowledge largely through non-formal and informal learning modes provided mostly by agriculture extension services systems,” said Gregorio.
ASEAN countries have been concerned about the status of skills among agricultural workers as they acknowledge that “competitiveness, productivity, and economic growth largely depend on the ability to acquire and use knowledge, as well as to attract the best talents.’”
As ASEAN aspires to have a “single market and production base”, the AEC (The ASEAN Economic Community) Blueprint has called for a “free flow of skilled workers” between ASEAN states.
ASEAN leaders from ministries of education, labor, and vocational training, met last Sept. 9-10, 2019 in Brunei to develop strategies on the adoption of AQRF in ASEAN.
The Philippines’ delegation include those from Department of Education, Technical Education and Skills Development Authority (TESDA), and SEARCA.
Gregorio said that as part of a SEARCA study, SEARCA has recommended that partnerships and alliances (such as that in Grow Asia-PPSD) should be encouraged in ASEAN countries.
Partnerships under Grow Asia-PPSD is seen by 2020 to involve 10 million smallholder farmers in Southeast Asia.
“Currently, it has reported to have collectively reached nearly 500,000 smallholder farmers through 26 value chain initiatives,” said Justimbaste and Bacani.
“The private sector can play a crucial role in spreading lifelong and reskilling opportunities among agricultural workers while innovating on methods of education and training delivery that fit the prevailing non-formal and informal learning and skills development in the agricultural and rural areas,” said SEARCA authors said.
“The driving strategy to scale up these opportunities is to put in place a competency certification system.”