By DR. BERNARDO VILLEGAS
In the 1980s, some business executives and professional people, led by the late Fritz Gemperle, studied closely the French and Spanish model of training farmers through the so-called Family Farm Schools. When agriculture was still a possible choice for young people in the rural areas in these two European countries, some educators teamed up with leading farmers to set up a school in the middle of a farming community. The innovation was patterned after the well-known dualvoc system made famous in Germany, Austria, and Switzerland in which workers would be trained in a program where the students have classroom training in a school and at the same time are given the opportunity to get on-the-job training in cooperating factories or workshops. This work-study arrangement proved to be very effective in producing high-quality technical workers who had both theoretical and practical training. In the Philippines, the most famous replication of this model—thanks to the German foundation Hanns Seidel Stiftung—is the Dualtech School in Canlubang.
Adapting this work-study arrangement to agriculture, Mr. Gemperle and a group of business people and educators set up the first family farm school in a 1.6-hectare property donated by the Ayalas in a barrio of Lipa, Batangas, called Dagatan. The Dagatan Family Farm School was established in 1988, with former President Cory Aquino herself inaugurating the school. Coordinating closely with farm households in the vicinity of Dagatan, the school started with some 30 teenagers—all sons of farmers—who were housed in a residential facility with classrooms where they had their theoretical training both in general culture and agriculture. One week in class and two weeks in farms. The tutors would visit their farms during the work portion and monitor how they were applying what they were learning in the classroom. An added benefit of this visitation was that the father-farmer of the student would also be listening to the advice being given and through osmosis also learn new agricultural technology. The over-all effect was a gradual improvement in the farm practices of the farmers in the area. The Dagatan model was replicated in several other places in Jala-jala, Rizal; Bais, Negros Oriental; Dingle, Iloilo; Roxas, Mindoro Oriental, and Lanao del Norte by the Dimaporos. Those were in the 1980s and 1990s.
Now fast-forward to the 2020s. At least in the province of Batangas, urbanization and industrialization are happening at a feverish pace. In fact, as I wrote in a previous column in this paper, Batangas is already another Metro Manila. We have witnessed the massive conversion of sugar plantations into real estate and tourism projects. The farmer is already an anachronism in that province. Dagatan can hardly convince any teenager or millennial son of a farmer to pursue a career in farming. What with the great demand for construction workers, BPO-IT and hospitality workers! So what should Dagatan do to transform itself to adapt to the completely different environment in Batangas today as compared to the 1980s? The answer I give is to convince high school students entering senior high school that there is a future in becoming an agribusiness technician. What will this new occupation consist in? It will require skills related to the various phases of agribusiness—farming, post-harvest, retailing and processing—that can be utilized in servicing the increasing number of urban gardens set up by moneyed individuals in the province of Batangas. These would-be agribusiness entrepreneurs would be in great need of technicians who have the know-how and skills to make their investments in high-value crops profitable. These technicians do not have to have a college degree, a Bachelor of Science in Agriculture, like the graduates of UP Los Banos. What they need are a minimum of scientific knowledge and a maximum of technical skills in the various phases of agribusiness, i.e., farming, post-harvest, logistics, processing, and retailing. They should also be exposed to some business and management courses.
The Dagatan Family Farm School would be in the best position to pilot a course to be delivered at the senior high level, following that will produce a new generation of agribusiness technicians who can service the farm projects set up by “city slickers” who are interested in going into the production of high-value crops in the province of Batangas and the surrounding provinces of Calabarzon and the whole island of Mindoro that is already a major source of fruits like calamansi and saba bananas for the National Capital Region market. Dagatan already has a junior high school (Grade 7 to 10) in which the students already acquire a strong foundation in both cultural and agricultural subjects. Many of them come from farming households. These households, however, cannot afford to get into the high-technology urban farming referred to above. A good number of the graduates of the junior high school will be the base population of the senior high school that can be set up in the next school year or so. With the appropriate marketing, Dagatan can also recruit graduates of other junior high schools in the region who are interested in becoming agribusiness technicians.
While in their two years of senior high school, the students of the agribusiness course will already be deployed part time to the farm lots or urban gardens in the surrounding areas so that the dualvoc or alternancia nature of the school will be maintained. Some of them can also have on-the-job training in some large agribusiness ventures like the one that Jollibee and Cargill are setting up in Sto. Tomas, Batangas, in the poultry industry. There are also some coffee, cacao, and fruit orchards in the Calabarzon area in which they can have their on-the-job training. In fact, it would be wise for the large buyers of high-value products such as vegetables, fruits, and livestock to support the capital requirements of this innovative technical school. In addition to Jollibee, there are other big buyers such as McDonald’s, SM stores, Robinson, Starbucks, Coffee Project, Nestle, and others who will be the beneficiaries if we increase the number of agribusiness technicians. Once Dagatan provides proof of concept, the other family farm schools facing an identity crisis in other parts of the country can adopt the reengineered Dagatan model. I see this as part of the solution to keep some of our youth in the field of agribusiness. In fact, as these technicians are able to accumulate enough savings of their own to become self-employed entrepreneurs, we shall have also addressed the crying need for small- and medium-scale agribusiness enterprises. It will not be difficult for these technicians to evolve into self-employed farmers in their own right.
Finally, another sector that will be benefitted by this innovative approach of training agribusiness technicians is the tourism industry. Secretary Bernadette Romulo Puyat is giving a lot of emphasis to agri-tourism A good number of the farms producing high-value products in the Calabarzon and surrounding areas are becoming destinations of city folks who want to visit vegetable, fruit, and flower farms. In fact, some of those investing in these urban farms have agri-tourism as part of their business plan. Because of the strong foundation in the liberal arts given in Dagatan, their products can become effective communicators in both Tagalog and English and can readily fill the role of agribusiness tourist guides. They will have both the communication skills and technical know-how to explain to the tourists the nature of the farms they are visiting.
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