Thursday, July 28, 2011

SONA – Speaking from the heart

He’s indeed the mother’s son!” One of the telling reactions to the SONA – both mother and son must have been appalled to learn how rotten public service has become? President Aquino’s focus on corruption seems to have gotten our attention – finally? A legislator though would like to see “fear” within the bureaucracy to ensure that indeed the fight against corruption sinks in?

Critics of the SONA are all over the board but it is encouraging that the need for direction – beyond favorite pet projects – is being stressed. In MNC lingo, it simply is: ‘we must walk and chew gum . . . at the same time.’ And JFC folks, mostly coming from MNCs, understandably, want clarity on the PPP, for example, the vehicle the administration has identified would drive investments. (Translation: our economy is skewed, respectful of our parochial, hierarchical structure – and we can’t remain nonchalant to this major economic barrier if indeed we want to address poverty!)

The Philippine government is not an MNC although some government managers pride themselves in the ability to adopt MNC thinking and operating mode: the MNC business environment is complex (e.g., doing business in over 200 countries/markets that aren’t homogeneous, for example) yet it defines its reason for being in simple terms. And as importantly, it is able to exercise leadership where people take ownership – thus can be trusted and relied upon to deliver results. Of course, governments are more complex yet leaders like Reagan (“It’s morning again in America”) or Clinton (“It’s the economy, stupid”) were able to operate like MNC CEOs.

Cabinet secretaries have been busy developing their respective roadmaps – and indeed they’re impressive strategy documents. For example, the platform of Philippine Agriculture 2020 is pursuing agriculture like a business, i.e., sustainable and profitably growing. And in tourism the desired outcome is to make the Philippines a ‘must-experience’. These are truly sturdy, secured anchors! The challenge is how to manage the ‘Pinoy heart’? And when we say inclusive growth (our favorite buzzword), we better not be stepping on a mine field – because it opens up compromises, thus inefficiency if not corruption? It happens even in America: the push for housing was an attempt at social engineering – i.e., inclusive, yet sub-prime mortgage was clearly unsustainable – and, regrettably, it opened the floodgates of greed to the bankers, and brought the global financial system down . . . thus the Great Recession!

Indeed we ought to focus on ‘pursuing agriculture like a business’ or “making the Philippines a ‘must-experience’? Inclusive growth may be politically correct – yet it must not be akin to assuming that land reform would magically solve poverty, for example? As a recent Manila Times editorial points out, the Taiwan model succeeded because it was business driven and thus sustainable – while ours was essentially land distribution, a giveaway to middlemen if not usurers? Is our instinct to compromise why we’re prone to inefficiency and corruption? The test for the Aquino administration is to focus on driving the execution of these roadmaps – i.e., separating the wheat from the chaff! Our neighbors have drastically reduced poverty by aggressively driving their economic output? Put another way, we’re a poor country yet we expect people not to be poor? Thus charity is a must – but it can’t be an engine of economic development. (Social engineering is no panacea – e.g., some US teachers are found cheating re ‘no-child-left-behind’.)

As Asians we know the one step back, two steps forward phenomenon? The writer had to explain it to his Eastern European friends when he urged them to unequivocally drive margins. And one of their first initiatives was to eliminate manual packaging (e.g., one step back) in the factory, and to mechanize the process; and they followed this with uprooting the offices from ‘the middle of nowhere’ to the city center and in a modern, award-winning building – to start the shift in mindset: coming from a poor ex-communist village with very low expectations, to becoming a truly honed, respected competitor to MNCs. (Translation: many ex-MNC managers have joined them!)

Fast-forward 8 years: From doing business in one small country with one dilapidated factory . . . today they’re doing business in over 20 countries and counting, with four state-of-the-art manufacturing facilities. Like an MNC, they have helped develop auxiliary and support businesses around their enterprise! Driving investments and competitiveness brings to life what economists call the multiplier effect – a meaningful terminology a.k.a. inclusive growth?

Sunday, July 24, 2011

SONA: expectations, impatience and reality

With President Aquino getting ready for the SONA, it appears we are learning to dial down our expectations while simultaneously expressing impatience – and recognizing reality? Perhaps the president’s credibility in his fight against corruption has earned him the benefit of the doubt?

This blog talks about the imperative of ‘focusing on the outcome’ especially in pursuing major undertakings. Indeed we can talk the talk – yet competitive advantage lies in the ability of an enterprise to separate the wheat from the chaff. The writer covered the region when our neighbors (not as well-informed as we were, he thought) were zooming and turning into Asian tigers. And he was the least surprised as investors favored them, over us – even though Thailand in fact adapted our economic development plan. We don’t need another economic development plan as we know it? Every time there is a new regime, our ‘weather-weather’ pattern is legitimized by the new power structure, and the spoils that come with it? And thus those lower in the hierarchy would rationalize [widespread inefficiency cum] corruption – i.e., the Peter Pan syndrome, of following the leader? And Juan de la Cruz has yet to recognize that inefficiency and corruption especially when endemic undermine competitiveness – i.e., productivity and economic output?

Clearly we must learn to focus on the desired outcome if we don’t want history repeating itself? With an average income that is a meager 10% those of developed economies, the idea of inclusive growth is a pipedream if we don’t raise our revenues or GDP substantially – the gut of our challenge! Yet as an underdeveloped economy, we have lots of room to grow – if we elevate our competitiveness and leverage the global economy like the Asian tigers did. Ergo: our focus must be competitiveness, not unsustainable populist initiatives! Unfortunately, as the JFC points out, our batting average, in executing the priority initiatives from Arangkada Philippines, that will drive investments and revenues, has been dismal. And it will get worse if we don’t demonstrate conviction, and are tentative instead? It’s a disservice if we simply stay the course – or if ‘Pinoy kasi’ means we can’t turn things around? And our response: “We’re the happiest people on earth?”

The writer is with a group of exporters and they’re talking of the good old days – “but today our group is much smaller: we’ve lost our competitiveness!” The good news is they recognize the downside when small entrepreneurs treat their ventures as personal, as opposed to being separate standalone, entities. And so there is passive risk-taking and thus the aversion to investing in technology, for instance. Likewise, they recognize the challenge of productivity – e.g., foreign buyers tell them how productive Chinese workers are: ‘putting a fair day’s work for a fair day’s pay’. That mantra ought to be the standard – not ‘populist initiatives’ (a.k.a. misplaced compassion) that are unsustainable . . . and undermine the common good?

And so the writer challenges them to confront these barriers instead of sweeping them under the rug – e.g., like whitewashing the slum area around the airport? We have to change ‘Pinoy kasi’ to mean something positive? And he relates the first time he visited the factory of his Eastern European friends: They proudly expounded with great [national] pride that they could cobble together some locally fabricated equipment. But after the writer reviewed the margin numbers, he had to explain why “outcome” must come first before “activity”: A factory provides the largest opportunity to drive margins – and it comes from speed and flexibility. And instead of being fixated by costs, the key is to focus on driving margins – and tapping state-of-the-art technologies, for example, and pursuing the development of higher value-added products that would find a much larger market overseas. Today they’re singing a different tune: ‘We ordered and are awaiting the latest technology from Germany – because the numbers are the numbers!’

Why does the Philippines continue to rank poorly in competitiveness? Instead of focusing on the desired outcome, we focus on the activity? Instead of defining a much bigger market beyond our shores, we simply want to tap Filipinos here and abroad – and even telco businesses, supposedly technology-based, define a very limited market? We must set higher expectations, and not undersell our efforts and ourselves? At the country level, we have to focus on driving our GDP – i.e., raise our revenues ten-fold; and at the industry level, we must focus on driving competitiveness – i.e., tap state-of-the-art technologies and pursue the development of higher value-added products, that would find a much larger market beyond our shores. We need to raise ‘Pinoy ambition’ – and take the parable of the talents to heart?

Friday, July 22, 2011

The ‘half-pregnant’ myth

In marketing lingo, it means conviction! But would we rather find comfort in ‘the grey area’ – because we don’t want to be labeled ‘yabang’ or ‘hambog’? We’re expected to be unassuming? It’s in fact very Asian! In the US, beyond the ‘glass ceiling’, there is also the ‘bamboo ceiling’ (New York magazine, May 16). If women are still fighting for equally, the conventional wisdom is Asians also have a fight in their hands. And it is traced to what has been labeled the ‘timid culture’ in the East – and why Easterners are sometimes called ‘inscrutable’. And Westerners, Americans especially, are uncomfortable when Asians don’t speak up. Unfortunately, it has been taken against them especially in leadership. The Western mind presupposes that leaders must have the conviction and the passion to lead in both good and bad times – and since the true test of leadership is when the chips are down, it is assumed that to be timid is a liability.

The writer encounters this reality with his Eastern European friends. And so he would remind them that in every major undertaking, it is important to be passionate – and would tease them not to use words like ‘maybe’ or phrases like ‘we will see’ especially after an agreement is reached no matter how tough the challenge is.

In one business review after the writer had just flown in, he was horrified that the group was taking the shortfall in sales for the period indifferently. They had concluded that it was insurmountable! And so he played an ‘old song’ they had heard before: ‘To be faced with famine or persecution must be insurmountable? But who said we can’t create our own country?’ Fast-forward: In the short period of less than 2 months, they were able to pull together stepped-up efforts to overcome the shortfall. (Progressive enterprises train their people to develop especially the instinct ‘to make things happen’ – and overcome ‘taking the path of least resistance’. And why developing a culture of competitiveness is indeed an immense challenge – it’s far more than reducing red tape. It starts in the mind, and then the heart before it gets to the gut and be instinctive. Many years ago, the writer learned that beyond teaching Chinese engineers how to run a hi-tech facility, they also had to be equipped with problem-solving skills. But we, Filipinos, know it all?)

Why is the Philippines poor? We can’t be half-pregnant? We must have the conviction and the passion for nation-building? It means not compromising our principles even when the personal is tugging us wrongly? Inefficiency and corruption are products of compromises – whenever we compromise principle and mistake it for compassion?

We have humongous challenges; and we can’t define and prioritize impactful solutions if we don’t seek conviction? The JFC has tabled a roadmap, ‘Arangkada Philippines’, but it will only be impactful if we bite the bullet for principle’s sake? For example, we need a similar roadmap that defines and prioritizes the execution of ‘Philippine Agriculture 2020’, no doubt an excellent piece of strategy. But a strategy is only as good as it is executed! We put together great plans – even world-class plans – but we have to be serious about execution! And it takes conviction!

We can’t be half-pregnant in defining our economic goal, that is, to be a developed nation; in defining our strategic industries and in spelling out the priority initiatives that will bring them to fruition; in partnering with foreign investors or in negotiating trade agreements; and even in pursuing populist initiatives, e.g., land reform or CCT – and simply, it means we must seek sustainability and not waste scarce resources like the 50 years behind our failed land reform program.

The writer has done business in many parts of the world yet is still dumbfounded when he’s told how blatant corruption in our country is. Does the ‘weather-weather’ phenomenon mean that when our time at the helm comes, we must abuse it to the hilt? In fairness, we have plenty of honest-to-goodness efforts, but they’re undermined by insidious corruption? Invariably, Juan de la Cruz lives in an environment with ‘low trust levels’ and thus has little confidence in his future? And for a nation it equates to perpetuating underdevelopment and poverty – e.g., a worker or a farmer won’t give it his all? In the private sector, that is recognized as an outcome of failed leadership – unfortunately veiled in hierarchical environments?

Monday, July 18, 2011

‘Management incompetence’

“An outspoken, straight-shooting executive [former GM Vice-Chair Bob Lutz] believes the greatest factor in the demise of the U.S. auto industry is management incompetence,” reports The Daily Tickler, Jul 6th. “No, it's not the unions (although that contributed). No, it's not uncompetitive wages compared to Asian manufacturers . . . Auto executives worried too much about hitting the numbers and not enough about creating a product consumers wanted to buy . . .”

The writer has heard the exact same criticism (from his days negotiating with unions, and doing restructuring and M&A’s) and thus recognizes the imperative of market research, R&D and product development. And so he gives his Eastern European friends grief whenever he senses that they’re slacking in product development.

Whenever the writer is in town he instinctively goes to do ‘store checks’ – to get a sense of what consumers find in the stores, and which products or brands appear to be moving relatively fast. But what hits him is the range of products, of local and foreign brands. It would confirm how much trade has been liberalized; and no wonder those with a strong patriotic bias are critical of globalization – and why our liquor industry is against a recent WTO ruling? Hedging against globalization should not mean the absence of conviction; and we won’t have the conviction if we keep to the proposition that the current generation is not ready – i.e., we’ve given a string of generations slack and the whole country is paying the price?

What is reality? We have pursued a consumer-driven economy that effectively responds to the needs of our OFWs? And, of course, ‘the elite’ – who now have access to their preferences without hopping on a plane to Hong Kong or Singapore? Today’s kids can pursue culinary arts when their parents had to travel to Switzerland?

Unfortunately, everyone is focused on the local market . . . yet rightly so – it’s a big market of 100 million Filipino consumers? For foreign brands, the Philippines is part of their concerted effort to expand their market. But for local brands, it is part of a defensive effort to protect a piece of the Philippine market? Local brands by design (i.e., sense of entitlement?) limit their market while foreign brands by design (i.e., competitive spirit?) expand their market? Fundamental in strategy formulation is the expansion of one’s market – which to foreign brands is a no-brainer? (The best defense is offense!) But it isn’t so with local brands? Do our parochial tendencies narrow our perspective? Do we believe we can’t compete overseas?

Looking at how our local brands present themselves in supermarket shelves, for instance, there should be no reason why we should not venture to market them overseas? Is it because our brands don’t have healthy margins for us to afford market development beyond our shores? Is it because our brands tend to be copycats and don’t have true value-added? It is precisely why product development is critical – and glossing over it equates to the ‘management incompetence’ that Bob Lutz speaks to? This blog talks about investment: in technology and innovation, and talent, product and market development – precisely because they are the imperatives if we are to leverage the global economy? Our financial services industry must look beyond our shores – and promote business development initiatives beyond our parochial predisposition? And our marketing, science & technology communities and universities ought to aggressively pursue R&D and product development? But we don’t have to start from scratch – partnering with global players could provide us the necessary platform to raise our technology and innovation quotients – and Nokia is a good example?

And we don’t have to be a Steve Jobs to succeed in the global arena. We must develop the overseas market for products and services that we can differentiate – and add value? But then again, shifting our mindset will be the most difficult part especially if we can’t shed our parochial bent? Foreign investment in the meantime continues to raise objections to our protectionist bias, despite trade liberalization. As the world knows, Philippine industry equates to a handful of major local players – and they have yet to truly enlarge our economic pie – and our actuations are perceived as unwelcoming. Ergo: they simply look elsewhere? We don’t want to burn our candle from both ends?

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Moving forward with competitiveness

It is encouraging that we appear to recognize that the regional, if not the global, market presents opportunities to drive our economy? And that we must become competitive to make it a reality? Which means generating the confidence and the capacity to be truly competitive? It is not easy for a battleship to change course, more so a country and a culture? Circulating in cyberspace are photos of ‘Manila when it was first in the region’. And one could almost see oneself in very pleasant surroundings, window shopping along Escolta all the way to Plaza Moraga?

Our best days need not be behind us? But we have to first get rid of the thought that somehow whatever ails us could be solved by external help? An attendee to the recent forum of PhilDev (on innovation and entrepreneurship) writes in his blog that perhaps given our colonial past, we seem married to the notion that some big brother would help us? But of course we have a few big ones who can help – and they are our major enterprises? They are in the best position to make this battleship change course – but not if we’re glued to the past. Unwittingly we may be reliving the ‘gilded age’ in America when oligopoly ruled – granted we are in that stage of our evolution and development? Yet we welcome and need their investments! But they must figure out what it will take for Philippine industry to be competitive – and thus able to expand our market beyond our shores?

Industry captains can push for eliminating foreign investment restrictions which have held back economic development? While we see some degree of progress we keep sub-optimizing our efforts owing to our “paki” culture which is a hair removed from inefficiency if not corruption? Our major enterprises can spearhead bringing ‘science and technology’ to the country? Given their credibility, they can call on our legislators to make the Philippines competitive via statutes that attract foreign investments and encourage technology and innovation, and talent, product and market development? To whom much is given much is expected – which is another way of expressing the 80-20 rule, especially in prioritization? Of course it will not be a cakewalk – to reorient a business from local to one with regional, if not global, reach would require a new mindset and greater investment, which is precisely what the Gokongweis are doing, for example?

Instead of railing against MNCs, we should in fact encourage our major enterprises to become MNCs themselves. And the reality is Fortune 500 companies are able to spread economic benefits because of their confidence and capacity to be globally competitive – i.e., they invest aggressively in technology and innovation, and talent and product and market development. The writer shared this reality with his Eastern European friends, and one of his greatest thrills is seeing them come along, raising their standard of living in 8 short years. They have become a model for how a local concern could compete beyond its borders, and so the EU has taken notice of them.

We, in the Philippines, remain mired in crafting livelihood projects because our economy is insufficient to feed 100 million Filipinos – and why the abuse inherent in corruption and crony capitalism is criminal? It would take lifting our average income ten-fold before we could be a developed nation! But we can raise our sights and muster the confidence and generate the capacity to be globally competitive – and steer our battleship to change course? And as The Manila Times July 7th editorial, while teeing up Taiwan as a model, points out: we need to focus on the economic objective [even] of populist initiatives like land reform for them to be sustainable; we can’t waste 50 years on major initiatives for naught? Kindness to a fault is compassion misplaced – i.e., we’ve wasted so much scarce resources in unsustainable efforts?

Watching the administration’s ‘Pilipinas Natin’ (TV broadcast) present its economic initiatives during its first year, one can’t help notice the focus on “inclusive” – which the moderator in fact queried: “Is it even realistic?” It probably is semantics, but indeed the realistic approach is to focus on driving competitiveness? Initiatives like “OTOP” or agriculture as an industry can only be sustained if they are anchored in competitiveness? Put simply, we cannot gloss over the requisites of competitiveness – i.e., investment in technology and innovation, and talent, product and market development – if we are to enlarge our economic pie, for the common good? Competitiveness – coupled with integrity – must prevail if we are to put meaning behind our favorite buzzword, “inclusive”?

Saturday, July 9, 2011

An invitation to smugness

American ‘exceptionalism’ is also an invitation to smugness when just the opposite is needed,” editorializes USA Today, as the US celebrates July 4th, its 235th anniversary. “The nation does not hold a monopoly on wise policies. Far from it, as evidenced by our shrinking manufacturing base, underperforming schools and dysfunctional health care system.

Rather than reveling in our greatness or turning up our noses at other countries, American leaders should be studying the best practices abroad and bringing them back home.”

This brings the writer back to a similar time when a similar sense pervaded corporate America: We must learn Japanese manufacturing! The writer has seen America ‘stumble and fall’ . . . and not just once, e.g., the periodic recessions that would highlight the shortcomings of a supposed superpower. And he has participated in what the editorial is conveying and experienced how America had to stand up, reminding him of the movie, Kung Fu.

It was with the same sense that the writer took on the call for volunteerism following 9/11, and from a president he never warmed up to and in fact criticized, and found himself in Eastern Europe. And he thought one month was good deed enough. But he sensed the Eastern Europeans had more than stumbled and truly wanted to stand up, and so he committed to share with them a piece of the American experience, albeit miniscule. In the beginning they simply expressed lack of understanding and pumped the writer for “rules”: How do they do this in the West? But beyond the rules he wanted them to appreciate the principles behind them – because they needed to embrace and be anchored in what makes free enterprise tick.

And so at times they found themselves conflicted. Their pride in the products they had created made it difficult to see their downsides. Yet it was important for them to understand the imperative of competitiveness – that product development is both art and science (e.g., technology and innovation), and that a robust product pipeline is key; and that absent healthy margins sustainability is at risk, i.e., global players could drive them to extinction. But they first had to learn the fundamentals of product architecture modeling – which in its simplest form is translating Maslow’s hierarchy of human needs into segments or the value-chain of products for a specific product category, i.e., a product idea is a response to a human need. [It is encouraging that in the Philippines, PhilDev has introduced the imperative of innovation and entrepreneurship, emphasizing innovation and healthy-margin products. This can’t happen overnight, and presupposes shedding our parochial instincts; and being more demanding, demanding word-class products even from local enterprises, who in turn would equip themselves to take on the bigger regional, if not global, market? And successful Philippine businesses can lead the new thinking?]

But there were other “rules” that they immediately embraced. For example, “integrity is what we are”. They would tell the writer that they resented the abuse that came with the powers of the hierarchy. And so they differentiated themselves from “the Communists” – they were ‘the anointed’, by the Soviet rulers. And the resentment continues today against those who successfully gained ownership of businesses simply because they were the anointed – i.e., the transition to democracy was not all milk and honey.

It appears we, Filipinos, are beginning to recognize that we have more than stumbled? Now we must be bent on standing up? It will not happen if unwittingly we believe in our individual successes and rely on them because it is in nation-building, the common good, where we have failed miserably? For example, integrity as a nation is imperative and it cannot be achieved if we can’t turn it into a culture? Competitiveness is another and it cannot be achieved if we can’t make it part of who we are? And it is not about perfection but continuous improvement – a lesson Americans learned from the Japanese. Like in Christianity, no one can claim perfection because it is a journey – and it is not easy because the path is straight and narrow? But we can dig deep into our hearts for the human spirit – so that we can stand up every time we stumble and fall?

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Integrity . . . and . . . Execution

The MAP must be congratulated for pushing forward with its efforts to create a culture of integrity and execution via its private-public partnership initiative (Business World, Jun 28). It has effectively created a ‘shadow-ombudsman network’ to monitor the progress of the Aquino administration in its fight against corruption and, as importantly, to improve the country’s business environment? And thus attract and raise our investments to competitive levels – and give us access to technology and innovation, and drive people, product and market development? [But the neighbors are crooks? Precisely – great competitors exploit, not embrace the weakness of competition? It’s called ‘the killer instinct’ – and is valued, i.e., winning fair and square is what integrity is about?]

Four other articles (from The Philippine Star) ought to be highlighted: (a) Developing countries take lead (in renewable energy); (b) PHL seeks rich countries’ help in promoting renewable energy; (c) UP professor clarifies value of ODA; and (d) When less is more (on the economic provisions of the Constitution). These pieces are interrelated and bring to life the challenges to our frail economy – or why we’ve faced them for decades?

The cost and the unreliability of power is one of the biggest if not the biggest barrier to our development? But it appears there is good news down the road? “The Philippines could be considered one of the world leaders in renewable energy, with more than 30 percent of its power generation coming from renewable resources . . . The Renewable Energy Act passed in 2008 calls for new support mechanisms, including a feed-in-tariff and a renewable portfolio standard, which are expected to be implemented in the next months. Additionally, the Philippine’s Department of Energy launched the updated National Renewable Energy Plan this month, which aims to triple renewable energy supply by 2030.” (Mary Ann Ll. Reyes, The Philippine Star, Jun 29)

But we can’t go it alone and must seek help from rich countries – yet our actuations say otherwise? Thus the UP professor (The Philippine Star, Jun 29) reminds us: “The Philippines is at the losing end . . . ODA projects coming in the Philippines have been dwindling since 2001 to the present . . . and cancellation of ODA-funded projects would affect the “palatability” or how other countries regard the Philippines.” And that must be in reference to NAIA 3, ZTE, Ro-Ro ports deal, North Rail, Laguna Lake rehab, etc.? It appears we simply love to shoot ourselves in the foot?

Is it our psyche – we simply complicate instead of simplify things? From our Constitution to the bureaucracy and red tape AmCham raised, and beyond? “There are times when less is more. The less said, the more flexible, the better is the result. The more said, the greater the probability of mistakes that lead to unwanted results”, writes Gerardo P. Sicat, discussing our Constitution (The Philippine Star, Jun 29). “Very few constitutions have detailed statements about the role of the state in economic matters or in the control of resources to be used in production. The Philippine constitution is exceptional in that it has these details . . . Among all the East Asian neighbors – ASEAN members, South Korea, Hong Kong, and Taiwan. There are no economic provisions stated in their constitutional document. They leave economic issues unsaid, or unspecified.”

Complexity breeds not only inefficiency and even worse, corruption? While simple sharpens focus, and drives efficiency and execution? Of course, simple does not mean dumb but smart? It appears we, Filipinos, equate complex with smart? So did the Pharisees and scribes? [Our kind hearts whisper ‘to include’ not ‘to prioritize’?]

Before the writer flew back to New York, like he always does, he shared with his Eastern European friends what they have labeled ‘tricks of the trade’. A couple of them were still hurting from the put-down from the writer, so he explained: “The bigger we become, the simpler it must be – we are not tested for the complexity of our formulations but for their effectiveness and impact. We want market share, we want volume, we want investment spending, we want margins – and together they give us healthy profits, thus competitive advantage, that will sustain geographic expansion and growth. Try that with complex and we won’t even get to first base – because it will leave us high and dry in our perch?”

Sunday, July 3, 2011

Agriculture initiatives continue to lag?

The Joint Foreign Chambers (JFC) already raised this issue when they reported on the progress of Arangkada Philippines earlier in the year? Are we simply too nice as a people – tolerant of inaction? The writer has felt a similar nonchalance in Eastern Europe; and probably why it has become his second home – it is not as cut and dried as the US?

It shouldn’t be surprising that on June 25th there was a commentary, Structure Follows Strategy, in The Inquirer? Yet it still sends shivers? It speaks to a classic gobbledygook? Put simply, in agriculture we’re still neither here nor there? “But we’re nice people” – the writer could almost hear his Eastern European friends! He remembers being briefed about the local culture: “Please don’t expect Stefan – who was to be his assistant, translator and driver – to be at your place on the dot at 9 every morning.” Left unsaid is: “We’re not a slave to time.”

We believe we have a strategy but the structure is missing – and the requisite leadership to drive pieces of the initiatives is non-existent, says The Inquirer? But we are uncompetitive and poor because our economy is lagging – just like our agriculture efforts? Resolve and urgency – how do we dig them from our hearts? But we’re nice people? Or is it the big guys – like the middlemen providing credit, for example – taking advantage of the small farmers, and they can’t fight their city hall? And as bad if not worse is when local officials misappropriate funds for local development, like it was reported recently?

We have to look our reality in the eye: we can’t get things done, we suffer from endemic corruption and we’re stuck in the past given the issues we’re still dealing with – when our neighbors, including supposedly poor Vietnam, are already doing large-scale farming and pursuing bio-technology? It is not simply a matter of thinking big or small? But thinking small or ‘making-do’ yields small outcomes – reminiscent of the parable of the talents?

Yet we are proud that we’re thinking big – because food security is the mantra of our agriculture efforts? But should it really be food security, the new buzzword? Or should it be a sustainable, profitable enterprise that we want for agriculture? And that means ensuring from the get-go that competitiveness – i.e., investment in technology and innovation, and people, product and market development – is the guiding principle of agriculture? It means that the factors of production – men, machine, materials, money and method – are optimized for efficiency and productivity. And to ensure commercial success, the dynamic of the product, pricing, placement (distribution) and promotion are optimized as well. And finally to ensure execution we are able to satisfy the acid test: who will do what, when, where and how? There could be several layers in our agriculture initiatives – from the local level all the way to the national level – and that is why the bias must be to prioritize, following the 80-20 rule?

What should be the contribution of agriculture to national revenue? What sectors will generate the greatest revenue streams and must be the “core business” of agriculture? How can it sustain this revenue-generating capacity? Do we need to tap foreign markets for produce where we have the competitive advantage? How do we attain such advantage – e.g., via technology, innovation, etc.? What market shares must these produce attain to have critical mass and justify investments – from infrastructure to production to logistics, for example? How will the efforts be shared across the stakeholders – corporate entities, cooperatives and individual farmers? In short agriculture must have a business plan. Once we have an articulated plan and a strong commitment to execute and thus generate the desired income streams, then we need a parallel initiative to pursue livelihood-directed efforts at the local level.

To take care of the economics (of agriculture) that will yield the surplus for compassion’s sake is authentic; to talk compassion without the economics is not walking the talk – because it’s unsustainable?