Best Practices, Innovative Ideas from Other Countries Can Make Philippine Agriculture More Progressive and Innovative, SaysVillar
Senator Cynthia Villar has maximized the benefits from her travels in various parts of the world to better perform her mandate, duties and responsibilities as a legislator and as the managing director of her family’s foundation, the Villar Social Institute of Poverty Alleviation and Governance or Villar SIPAG.
“As a public official, I get invitations to attend events and to visit cities or projects abroad. I use these travel opportunities to study the best practices of communities, cities and even companies abroad. This helps me in putting together bills or legislations and implementing projects for my advocacies,” said Villar. These educational tours with local government officials is not financed by government but by Senator Villar’s private money.
Farm Tourism Development (France, Taiwan & Thailand/2015 & 2016)
For instance in 2015, while in the process of drafting a bill to encourage agricultural tourism in the country, Senator Villar visited not only farm tourism sites in various parts of the Philippines, but she also made it a point to check out those in other countries such as in Taiwan, Thailand and France. Villar’s first visit in France in July 2015 was upon the invitation of an association of farm schools there. The senator was surprised to know that there are thousands of farm schools in the First World country.
Villar is the primary author and sponsor of Republic Act No. 10816 or the Farm Tourism Development Act of 2016 that is widely praised and credited for boosting agriculture-related tourism in the country. The said law paved the way for an increasing number of farmers, farm owners and farming communities to enjoy the benefits of converting their farms into farm tourism sites. They have multiplied their earning sources—from their crops, from the tourists’ who visit their farm and buy products as well as from the tuition fees of the trainees in their farm schools.
“In the last four years, since the law was passed, there has been a huge increase in farm tourism destinations all over the country. We published a book (Directory of Farm Schools, Tourist Farms and Learning Sites in the Philippines), from a list of only 386 in its first edition, the number has reached over 2,367in the fifth edition and many are not listed yet,” said Villar.
Among the sites she visited in Taiwan are the Golden Town Leisure Farm Zone, Young Lake Resort, Da-hu Strawberry Winery, Flying Cow Ranch, Taomi Eco-Village, Paper Dome, and Taipei Agricultural Products Marketing Corporation.
She also met with Master Cheng Yen, regarded as the “Mother Teresa of Asia” who founded the international humanitarian organization Tzu Chi Foundation. Villar personally thanked her for their help to victims of typhoons Ondoy and Yolanda. Tzu Chi Foundation taught us how to make boats from waste family size pet bottles used to clean the Las Pinas-Zapote River.
“After visiting all the big farm tourism sites, we also went to a small village, the only attraction of the village there are its butterflies and small restaurants, but tourists go there. So it goes to show, that the site can be simple but successful,” says Villar.
LGU officials thankful to VIllar
Villar also makes it a point to bring along with her a group composed mostly of mayors, governors, congressmen and others who are interested in agriculture and will benefit from the study trip. Many of whom have credited the senator for the turnaround in the agriculture sector in their city or province. For instance, Albay Governor Al Francis Bichara profusely thanked Villar when the province recently won TESDA’s National Kabalikat Award. The governor said in 2017, Villar brought him along with other government officials to tour the best and most modern and state-of-the-art agricultural farm technologies in Israel. He said the trip inspired him “to innovate and adapt, to think global yet local.” He said Albay Farmers’ Bounty Village Farm Schools and Assessment Center was patterned after Israeli ingenuity but Filipino designed. Located in Camalig, Albay, it helps improve the lives of the Albayano food producers through entrepreneurship and farm enterprise capacity-building.
Agri Hydroponics Technology (Israel, 2017)
Villar considers the said trip to Israel as one of the most insightful and memorable too since it made them realize that ingenuity and innovation coupled with technology are just as important as land and water in agriculture. “Israel is mostly desert, they lack water. They have desalination plants in order to have potable water. They don’t have agricultural land. And yet agriculture is thriving, in fact, they export vegetables. It’s about technology. They grow plants using aquaponics or hydroponicsand use desalinated water. Since desalinated water is expensive they use water by droplets, the water controlled by a computer”. Villar has an urban aquaponics project in a poor community in Las Pinas.
Cacao (France, 2017/Indonesia, 2018)
In 2017, Villar was part of a Philippine delegation to France, where she visited the headquarters and factory of French chocolate manufacturer Valrhona in Tainl’Hermitage (600 kms from Paris). At the end of the visit, Villar invited the Valrhona officials to visit the Philippines and to source cacao from the country. Valrhona sources cacao from eighteen countries and the Philippines can be one of them.
She also studied the cacao industry in Indonesia during her visit there in July 2018. Villar really believes that the country has what it takes be at the forefront in cacao. The Philippines started cacao farming in Asia, it was here where first cacao in the region was planted in 1670 and the country already has commercial production as early as the 1950s. She included cacao planting as intercrop to coconut in the Coconut Farmers and Industry Trust Fund Act (Senate Bill No. 1052) to be financed by the coco levy fund
“We have to work harder because we cannot even meet our local consumption requirement of 50,000 metric tons. Local supply is only about 12,000 metric tons. Why do we still import cacao and cacao products to serve the local demand? When in fact we are in the best position to fill the supply gap in the world cacao market, because we are a coconut producing country and cacao is intercropping to coconut” cited Villar. According to the roadmap of the Philippine Cacao Industry Council, the goal is to produce 100,000 MT of cacao beans in 2022, both for export and domestic market.
Villar also learned about the sector in her Indonesia trip in Jakarta and Sulawesi. She saw a very good working model there when she visited a cacao farm owned by a smallholder farmer being trainedby a European NGO. “We also visited the office of American company Cargill in village, where they have a buying station for cacao. Beside the buying station is a Bri bank (Bank Rakyat Indonesia) representative where farmers deposit the proceeds of sales and they borrow from Bri bank. Bribank (Bank Rakyat Indonesia) is the biggest bank in Indonesia, government owned and their portfolio is 80% for small, medium & micro enterprise and yet most profitable.
According to Villar, a mere 10 percent share in the world supply can provide a profitable income to the country’s cacao producers. The global demand for cacao products is expected to have reached between 4.7 million to 5 million MT by this year. Meanwhile, the cacao global shortage is predicted at one million metric tons.
Natural ( Organic) Farming France, 2017
Villar also visited the Ferme de la Bourdaisière, a permaculture micro-farm in Montigny-sur-Loire, located on a 1.4-hectare plot behind the Chateau de la Bourdaisière. The farm uses sustainable farming practices. It does not use pesticides or chemical and synthetic fertilizers, has a zero-waste policy, and low energy consumption. Villar said such type of farm could be adapted to the Philippines with farmers having small plots of land and little capital. She now incorporates the said sustainable principles in Villar SIPAG farms and farm schools in Las Pinas, Bulacan, Iloilo and Davao City. It will also solve our problem of 38% degraded Philippine soil and the solution is we compost organic wastes and bring them back to the soil according to UN FAO.
The senator also visited a 100-hectare wheat farm outside of Paris that left an impression on her because of how it was run by its owner. “It is owned by a young man who runs on his own without any help because his farm is fully mechanized. The farm was from his parents, His other siblings moved to Paris to become a lawyer and an accountant. He runs the farm and takes care of his parents there, too,” recalled Villar, who has been encouraging the Filipino youth to make a career in agriculture since Filipino farmers are already growing old, with age averaging over 57 years old.
Dairy (India 2018/Israel 2017/Thailand 2016)
In India, Villar and her entourage studied the dairy sector since it is the biggest dairy producers in the world. Dairy centers and farms there are mostly run by smallholder farmers and cooperatives. The senator urged the Department of Agriculture through the Philippine Carabao Center and the National Dairy Authority to increase milk production which up to now is at a dismal level of less than one percent of demand.They have two processing plants one owned by the government being supplied by farmers and one owned by dairy cooperative earning billions of dollar.
In Thailand, the senator was able to see a farm tourism site with a dairy farm. “It’s a 400-hectare farm that has many areas—souvenir stores and restaurants in front a processing area where they make various milk-based products such as milk, popsicles, ice cream etc.; then there’s the farm area where thecows are kept and cared for and then there’s a grass plantation area for the cows’ feeds. It is a one-stop site, fully functional and sustainable. Something that our very own Philippine Carabao Center can be,” said Villar.
Israel where each cow produces 40 liters of milk everyday because of better quality of cows and better quality of cows food.
“So much to learn out there”
“There is really still so much to learn out there, from other places and people. We can adopt the best practices of others and recalibrate them for our own requirements or circumstances. That is a winning strategy of many successful leaders and businesses, so we can do the same in developing our country’s agriculture. We have all the natural resources, we just have to better utilize them to fulfil our people’s needs and aspirations,” says Villar.
Some of the other best practices and programs that Villar and the other local government officials that travel with her have studied and learned from their trips are as follows:
- Farmers’ Market: In Japan, they learned about a good model for the so-called farmers’ market where the owner provides the building and the farmers provide all the goods for selling. The owner just gets a percentage of the sale and gives the rest to the farmers;
Hybrid Rice: In Hunan, China, they show the research station –Hunan Hybrid Rice Research Center of Hybrid Rice with Hybrid Rice Expert, Prof Yuan Longping. Yuan Longping (Chinese: 袁隆平; born September 7, 1930) is a Chinese agronomist, known for developing the first hybrid rice varieties in the 1970s.Hybrid rice has since been grown in dozens of countries in Africa, America, and Asia—providing a robust food source in areas with a high risk of famine. For his contributions, Yuan is always called the “Father of Hybrid Rice” by the Chinese media.
- Bamboo: In China, they studied about all things bamboo and how they produce so many items, products and materials out of them. They have 20,000 hectares bamboo shoots plantation with bamboo processing beside it. They have state-of-the-art bamboo processing factories. It inspired Villar to put a bamboo processing factory in Las Pinas to help spur the bamboo industry’s growth. Villar also filed Senate Bill 716 or the Bamboo Industry Act to institutionalize the Philippine Bamboo Industry Development Program and strengthen the government’s efforts in encouraging bamboo plantation, research on its development and utilization. Bamboo, she cites, is a good cash crop for Filipino farmers and source of livelihood in poor communities.
Wetland Protection: In Hong Kong and China back in 2016, they visited the Hong Kong Wetland Park & Museum, and China/Xixi Wetland Park,Hangzhou, China among others. It served as an inspiration and basis of comparison for the Wetland Park that is now almost completed at the Las PinasParanaque Wetland, located off Manila Bay, which Villar saved from being reclaimed.
Green School: In another trip to Indonesia in 2017, they learned about environmental sustainability in a so-called Green School in Bali. The Senator, in her capacity as the chairperson of the Senate Committee for Environment and Natural Resources, toured the school for benchmarking on how to instil a deeper sense of environmental stewardship among Filipinos and on practices pertaining to the proper conservation of natural resources and waste management.
Food Fair: In Germany, Villar attended the Anuga Food Fair in Cologne where she noticed that coco sugar and coco water were the most popular products in the expo, but from other countries and not from the Philippines. Thus, she continues to support the coconut industry through various programs and legislation, so they can produce and market products from coconuts.
Food Security: Villar also attended the World Food Day celebration in Milan, Italy and the 40thPlenary Session of the Committee on Food Security of the United Nations’ Food and Agriculture Organization or FAO in Rome where she presented the status of the agriculture and food security in the Philippines.
Plastic Recycling: In Mexico, in December 2019, Villar toured Coca Cola’s PETSTAR Recycling Plant Facility in Toluca, Estado de Mexico to study the best practices and benefits of operating a successful bottle-to-bottle recycling system as a viable and strategic solution to address the plastic waste problems.
Villar’s committee is working on amendments to the Solid Waste Management Act of 2010 to institutionalize the practice of Extended Producers Responsibility or EPR, especially in industries that generate plastic wastes. She also established the Villar SIPAG Waste Plastics Factory in Las Pinas for Luzon, San Miguel,Iloilo for Visayas and Cagayan de Oro City for Mindanao, which turn waste plastics into chairs that are donated to public schools and farms schools all over the country.