WITH his assumption of the leadership of the Department of Agriculture (DA), Dr. William D. Dar brought and introduced his "New Thinking" strategy to agricultural development in the Philippines.
He has actually discussed this paradigm shift at length in his weekly column, "Ways of the Oasis," at the Manila Times.
The strategy, circulated with the DA rank-and-file, to study and act on, is built around eight paradigms: Modernization of agriculture, industrialization of agriculture, promotion of exports, farm consolidation, roadmap development, infrastructure development, increased (higher) budget and investments for agriculture, and legislative support.
During the DA-CAR management meeting to discuss the strategy and reboot, if not re-orient the agency's activities to the "New Thinking" paradigm, I could not help it but think about how this "new thinking" thing is asking us first to look at the old ways and how we use to do things.
We could not possibly have come to where we are without a beginning, experiences, lessons, innovations, and good or best practices from where our technical and economic advancements are anchored or ought to increase.
New thinking in agriculture compels its stakeholders to look at the current state of farming in the country and consider the best options possible.
For instance, each new stage of agricultural development builds on previous innovations. The good ones are a combination of technocentric (linear) and ecocentric (circular) approaches - two different worldviews in rural development.
Ecocentrism places the ecosystem at the center and stress that we need to limit the exploitation of our natural resources. It puts importance on conservation and prevention of exploitation and destruction of the environment.
Technocentrism, on the other hand, focuses on technology and science as a way to repair any damage done to the environment rather than changing ethical perspectives on environmental issues.
Under the new thinking in agriculture strategy, you combine the best of both worlds -- tech-savvy and also sustainable and circular that is most beneficial to farmers - in a manner that is sustainable and efficient to double their production and income.
For us in the Cordillera, is the new thinking in agriculture with its eight paradigms proposed by Dr. Dar, doable?
Our agriculture in the hands of smallholder farmers, their experiences, and best practices can provide some of the answers. The rest should come from the DA, local government units, academe, private sector, and other stakeholders.
To succeed, the food production chain with its many steps, are handled by different key players to include farmers, traders, retailers, processors, transporters, and others. These players operate alone and focus on themselves to the disadvantage of the farmers, like the usual local market gluts.
In Pongayan, Kapangan, which is a coverage area of the CHARM2 Scale-Up Project, the farmers were able to increase their production and secure their good income from their limited landholdings by changing the culture of solo mentality in the agro-food chain.
The farmers use to grow rice that is planted and harvested only once a year. Later the farmers shifted to vegetable and finally to the growing of bell pepper.
To better help the farmers, they were organized into the Pongayan Credit Cooperative (PCC). The members of the PCC were assisted by the local government unit (LGU) in the production of quality bell pepper.
The PCC was linked to a bigger cooperative (big brother-small brother tie-up) that buys and consolidates choice (medium-size) bell pepper produce from the farmers at P84 per kilo. The produce is delivered to the Jollibee Commissary Center in Canlubang, Laguna twice a month, under a contract arrangement. Those not bought by the cooperative (small and large size bell pepper) find their way in the local market or trading centers.
To strengthen the marketing partnership and the capacity of the farmers in producing quality bell pepper, the CHARM Scale-Up Project in partnership with the LGU supported the training proposal of the cooperative to train their members on good agricultural practices, bookkeeping, and others. The Project also assisted the community of Pongayan with the implementation of access infrastructure projects like farm-to-market roads, footpaths, and footbridges.
Under the New Thinking in Agriculture, as articulated by Dr. Dar, the DA should be able to connect companies, businesses, governments, and other key stakeholders to enable farmers and other people to change the world of food and the farmers for the better in the Philippines.