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Investing in agriculture



In the Philippines, investment in agriculture is crucial. However, from 2017 to 2022, investments in agriculture, forestry, and fisheries (AFF) dropped by 6% annually, as per the Philippine Development Report. This decline stems from investor concerns over risks like land ownership issues, high logistics costs, and poor adherence to international standards. Boosting investor confidence and revitalizing the sector requires a collaborative effort to enhance the productivity and resilience of agricultural value chains and improve the lives of smallholder farmers.


In line with this, PPSA and Grow Asia recently convened 80 key stakeholders in the agriculture sector for a panel conversation to promote responsible and sustainable agriculture investments.



LINKING PARTNERS AND FARMERS TOGETHER


Mennonite Economic Development Associates (MEDA) Philippines Country Director Natalie Macawaris emphasized the need to invest in the Philippine cacao sector. While the Mindanao region produces 80% of the country's cacao, it also has one of the highest poverty incidences in the country. Supported by Global Affairs Canada, MEDA Philippines’ Resilience and Inclusion through Investment for Sustainable Agrikultura (RIISA) project seeks to integrate Gendered-Environmental, Social and Governance practices to help improve the current business practices of actors in the cacao industry. 


The project connects farmers with markets and offers training to boost productivity and income. Natalie emphasized the role of international civil society in linking the private sector with smallholder farmers, noting that private investment can enhance farmers' technical skills.



“Linkages are very important. MEDA is an international NGO, and in the development space I can see one of the important roles we play is linking what is available from the government sector - in terms of support services - to smallholder farmers.” said Natalie. 

The project is also introducing regenerative agriculture practices to smallholder cacao farmers to promote soil health and manage pests and diseases. For example, MEDA is collaborating with the Philippine Regional Crop Protection Center to introduce the use of microbial solutions to farmers. The farmers are brought to demonstration farms that use microbial solutions to convince them to adopt regenerative farming practices. Regenerative farming is one of the environmentally sustainable agriculture practices (ESAP) that MEDA helps cooperatives and small and medium enterprises (SMEs) adopt through the RIISA smart incentives program. Under this program, matching grants are provided to incentivize farmers to adopt these practices and to help them manage the transition to ESAP and regenerative farming. This support allows farmers to adapt to new practices without facing high economic costs.



SOURCING INGREDIENTS RESPONSIBLY 


Meanwhile, Nestlé Philippines Inc. Head of Corporate Affairs Joey Uy highlighted the NESCAFÉ Plan’s collaboration with coffee farmers, communities, and government and development agencies in promoting  a comprehensive regenerative agriculture model aimed at conserving and rehabilitating soil health, biodiversity and water.



“We made a global commitment that by 2025, the raw materials that we source should be 100% sustainably sourced. By 2030, we also said that at least 50% of those raw materials should be sourced through regenerative agriculture,” said Joey. 

Although new to the Philippines, he stressed the importance of investing in regenerative practices to restore soil health, protect the environment, and boost farmers' productivity and profitability. Joey also shared that they are working with the Department of Agriculture in providing support through farm inputs and research on balanced fertilization. Balanced fertilization, a regenerative agriculture strategy currently being promoted by the Philippine government, aims to reduce reliance on traditional fertilizers as it combines the use of organic and inorganic chemicals based on crop and soil nutrient content.


Joey emphasized the importance of collaboration in researching balanced fertilization for regenerative agriculture.


“Partnerships are very key, not only with the government. We also work with NGOs and the private sector to help us with balanced fertilization.”


ENHANCING DIGITAL ACCESS AND PROMOTING INNOVATION


Stephanie Orlino, Head of Stakeholder Management of PLDT & Smart Communications, emphasized that investing in farmers’ and MSMEs’ digital inclusion enhances their resilience and boosts their livelihood. Through their Digital Farmers Program and eBiznovation Program, they help provide access to digital technologies, build digital skills and capabilities, and bridge connections to digital platforms and solutions.


The Digital Farmers Program, implemented in partnership with the Department of Agriculture - Agricultural Training Institute (DA-ATI), has three components: Farm Learn (trains smallholder farmers on digital skills), Farm Tech (gives smallholder farmers access to digital tools), and FarmConnect (connects smallholder farmers to digital solutions and services). Through the Program, smallholder farmers are ushered into the digital technology that helps them maximize technology to improve their productivity and efficiency; to increase their market reach and income; and even get access to something as basic as accurate and timely information.  



Steph emphasized, "Information is power. A lot of these farmers, especially in the hinterlands, still have the legacy phones so they are not able to maximize the power and benefits of mobile telephony and the Internet to access information crucial to their livelihood such as weather reports, market prices, training, support, markets, and the like that can boost their businesses and profits.”

Steph shared that youth involvement is also important to bridging technology gaps. Smallholder farmers often rely on younger family members for digital platform support, which simultaneously sparks their interest in agriculture, countering dwindling interest of the youth in the agri sector.


The eBiznovation Program of PLDT and Smart capacitates MSMEs on digital entrepreneurship and utilizing e-commerce and platforms like TikTok Shop to expand their market reach and increase profits. MSMEs are trained on digital entrepreneurship skills, provided access to technology and connectivity, on-boarded to e-commerce platforms, and provided the necessary support to ensure their success. 


Success stories include senior citizen business owners embracing e-commerce, small business owners expanding their reach, and those increasing their income by 5x in just three months after the training.  



INVESTING IN COLLECTIVE ACTION 


While collaboration and multi-stakeholder efforts are key to development, the ideas discussed should not only remain standstill and isolated in spheres of influence—instead, collaborative efforts should make tangible impacts on the lives of farmers.



“The delicate balance between sustainability and productivity can be achieved by ensuring there are safety nets for farmers. Most farmers’ lives depend on one season. They would be very wary of the uncertainties that come with something new. We cannot do this alone. We have to work together and ensure that there is a connection with financial returns. Training and capacity building remain always relevant,” emphasized Southeast Asian Regional Center for Graduate Study and Research in Agriculture (SEARCA) Project Coordinator II - AFNR Knowledge Platform Research and Thought Leadership Department and panel discussion moderator Jerome Cayton Barradas.


PPSA Country Director Angel Bautista urged members and partners to apply insights and strategies for more resilient and sustainable agriculture: “I encourage each of you to reflect on what you've learned and to consider how you might apply these insights in your own spheres of influence.”

A huge thanks to our Platinum Sponsor San Miguel Foundation and Silver Sponsor Maynilad Water Services, Inc. for your support in making this event a success!


For more photos of the event: https://bit.ly/PPSA-KPM2024



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