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?

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