As only one of every four farmers benefit from the country’s agricultural programs, local government units (LGUs) need to partner with the Department of Agriculture (DA) and other concerned agencies to deliver a more efficient farm extension service.
Since the devolution of agriculture extension services to LGUs in 1991, under Republic Act 7160, or the Local Government Act, it has not contributed much in improving farm productivity and farmers’ incomes, and much less reduced rural poverty, former Agriculture Secretary William D. Dar said.
“While there are a few LGUs that have successfully trained their agriculture personnel, and partnered with the DA and state universities and colleges (SUCs), millions of farmers and fishers still employ traditional farming and fishing practices reflective of poor LGU agricultural extension service,” said Dar, who currently serves as founding president of InangLupa Movement Inc., an agri-based volunteer organization of agriculture experts, advocates and hobbyists.
“LGUs should forge a strong partnership with the DA and SUCs in their localities and adopt the ‘steering and rowing’ approach, with the DA doing the steering and the LGUs, SUCs and other partner-agencies doing the rowing,” said Dar, who served for an unprecedented 15-year term as director general of the India-based International Crops Research Institute for the Semi-Arid Tropics (Icrisat), from 1999 to 2014.
“The DA will serve as the ‘steerer,’ as it can see the bigger picture, has the expertise and R&D [research and development] arm, the knowledge of the world markets and, more important, has the ‘purse,’” Dar said.
“Forging partnerships via the ‘steering and rowing’ approach is key to uplifting millions of small farmers and fisherfolk from poverty. This was proven by Icrisat, during my stewardship,” added Dar, who also serves one of the mentors under the Kapatid Agri Mentor Me Program (KAMMP), where young and old farmers are mentored by successful agribusiness entrepreneurs.
KAMMP is a collaboration between Go Negosyo founder Joey Concepcion, presidential adviser for entrepreneurship, and the DA under Secretary Emannuel F. Piñol.
Reach more farmers
Citing a 2016 General Appropriations Act report, Dar said only the first 1.5 million beneficiaries were adequately served by the government’s agricultural programs, short of the targeted beneficiaries at 5.5 million.
“With a strong partnership with [the] DA, SUCs, NGO [non-governmental organizations] and the private sector, the LGUs will be able to retool their agricultural officers and technicians and, subsequently, reach and serve 4 million more farmers,” Dar said.
He added the DA and SUCs can assist the LGUs in implementing national agricultural programs, including R&D projects, in their respective communities.
Currently, Dar said the LGU extension system does not involve small farmers in the R&D and technology-commercialization process, and, ironically, researchers and scientists do not spend enough time in the field and cooperate with extension workers.
Effect of devolution
Ten years after the devolution, Dr. Cielo Magno, an assistant professor at the University of the Philippines School of Economics, conducted a study in 2001, saying “the devolution of agriculture extension services to LGUs from 1991 turned out largely to be a mess.”
In her paper, “The Devolution of Agricultural and Health Services,” published in 2001, Magno added that the devolution resulted in the displacement of farm-extension personnel previously employed by the DA, and a number of them were assigned to perform non agri-related tasks, like clerks, traffic officers, environmental officers, market administrators and other unrelated positions.
Others even suffered harassment and indignities as they were on good terms with local chief executives, she added.
Magno said that, although some LGUs were able to source local and foreign assistance to employ efficient programs of delivering services, the majority of LGUs remain dependent on the internal revenue allotment and lack initiative to source and mobilize their own funds needed to address their responsibilities.
“We have to move on and should not blame the LGUs. Instead, we should build strong, mutual and lasting partnerships, aimed at transforming small farmers, rural women and the youth into ‘agripreneurs,’” Dar noted.
He said the DA—through its regional field offices, bureaus and line and attached agencies—and the SUCs—should help LGUs train and retool agriculture and fishery officers and technicians nationwide.
“This can be formalized through a memorandum of agreement among the DA, Department of the Interior and Local Government and the Commission on Higher Education,” Dar suggested.
Initially, he said the DA can tap experts from its bureaus and agencies to form a core of personnel to help LGUs conceptualize and implement agricultural programs. They can be assigned at the provincial level and the provincial agriculture office. Currently, the DA maintains a regional field office and a coordinating office at the provincial level, but none at the municipal level.
Dar suggested the DA and LGUs may adopt the IMOD framework to set goals in delivering agricultural extension services to small farmers and fishers.
Imod stands for Inclusive Market-Oriented Development that builds on four principles— markets motivate growth; innovation accelerates growth; inclusiveness ensures that the poor benefit; and resiliency sustains growth. Imod enables small farmers and fishers to benefit from the fruits of their labor.
“Finally, it is equally important in empowering and capacitating LGUs to arm them with appropriate policies and programs, enabling them to accelerate the transfer of technology, establish enterprises, create more wealth, and reduce poverty,” Dar said.