Diploma in Agricultural Entrepreneurship: Reinventing agricultural education
By Gina Mission

griculture as a profession has lost its appeal, says Jose Rene Gayo, professor at the University of the Philippines, and the University of Asia and the Pacific.

___For Filipinos pursuing higher education, agriculture is the least attractive career choice. Enrollment statistics show that since 1980, the share of agriculture over total enrollment at the post-secondary and tertiary levels has declined. The enrollment share for agriculture-related courses in the University of the Philippines in Los Baņos (UPLB), the country’s premier agricultural university, decreased from 51 percent in 1980 to 43 per cent in 1995.

___How this came to be is a story in itself.

___Formal agricultural education in the Philippines, according to Gayo, dates back to 1821, when the Spanish colonial government established the first farm school in the country. In 1889, the Manila Agricultural School was established. In 1885 and 1889, the Ateneo de Manila University and the University of Santo Tomas respectively, began offering agricultural courses. In 1907, the Americans established the Central Luzon Agricultural School. In 1909, the University of the Philippines-Los Baņos offered the first bachelor’s degree in agriculture.

___Boosting the 177 years of the country’s agricultural education are the research institutions IRRI (International Rice Research Institute) and Philrice (Philippine Rice Institute), which, to this day, continue to produce agricultural scientists and researchers.

___As Gayo said in his discussion, A Dual System Approach for Agricultural Entrepreneurship, "Filipino agricultural scientists are tops in the world. You see them occupying high posts in international bodies, professors in leading agricultural universities, and topnotch consultants. They lead in a number of publications in scientific journals and as speakers in international conferences."

___The discussion took place at the recent "Poverty Alleviation and Agrarian Reform: Promoting Entrepreneurship and Productivity in the Rural Sector" organized by the Center for Research and Communication, in cooperation with the Konrad Adenauer Foundation.

___It is ironic to note, then, that the Philippines is now a top importer of agricultural food products. What went wrong?

___As Gayo suspected, there is a bias for "science" or "research" rather than the "practical" application of scientific agriculture. Philippine agriculture education, he said, tended too much toward producing scientists and researchers. And while Gayo doesn’t see any problem with this, he is also worried. "The irony is that we forgot that those engaged in farming as a profession (not just for a living) have to make money out of agriculture," he said.

___Agriculture, he argued, is a business.

___At present, the country is facing food and agricultural security concerns. According to national income indicators, two-thirds of the country’s poor are in the rural areas. Four out of 10 Filipinos residing in rural areas live below the poverty line. Most of these rural poor earn their living directly or indirectly from agriculture. Land reform is under implementation. And yet, as Gayo said, a typical farmer would not even advise his children to take agriculture. "Why go to agriculture when there is no money in farming?" is the usual question.

___For agricultural education to be relevant today and in the future, Gayo said that focus has to be given to its "practical" side, and that is how to make money out of agriculture. To attain this means a paradigm shift, a radical change in the way farmers and future farm entrepreneurs are educated.

___As Booker Washington observed in his book Up from Slavery, "no race can prosper until it learns that there is as much dignity in tilling a field as there is in writing a poem."

___"The paradigm shift needed in agricultural education demands that instead of students spending time in classrooms or laboratories, they have to spend more time in actual, hands-on work in real agricultural ventures," explained Gayo. Thus, the development of a new training program, the Diploma in Agriculture Entrepreneurship (DAE).

___DAE is a three-year course in business management as applied to agriculture. Four phases comprise its curriculum. These are: farm practice and apprenticeship (first year), on-the-job training (summer after first year), cooperative farm enterprise (second year), and incubator farm business venture (third year).

___The first phase is conducted in the school campus, and is intended to develop the students’ manipulative skills in various farm jobs such as land preparation, planting, weeding, harvesting, and post-harvest processing.

___On-the-job training is designed to afford the students a chance to observe close hand entrepreneurs at work and how the business is run. They will be assigned to work in actual farms with whom the school will have made the necessary arrangements.

___In the cooperative business enterprise phase, the students will be grouped as "business venture teams" to go into specific farm enterprises that they will put up and manage on their own.

___Incubator farm business venture is the real thing. For one whole year, the student will take charge of a family farm, or some other person’s farm and takes full control of the project. The whole idea is to "wean" the student to be able to get started on some agricultural venture before finishing the course.

___To ensure student concentration on the program, the students will be housed inside the school. A daily schedule for the students will be strictly enforced. The day starts at 5 AM for wake-up and breakfast. Classes follow at 6:30 to 11:30. Lunch and free time from 11:30 until 1 PM. Study period/free time follows until 3:30. Farm work at 3:30 to 6:30. Supper is served at 6:30 to 7. A compulsory study period follows until 8:30. Free time from 8:30 to 9:15. And finally, sleep at 9:30.

___The DAE program will see its first implementation this year at the Central Luzon State University. Gayo said that the program will be implemented in six other agricultural schools in the country next year.

___Anticipating the impact of DAE, Gayo said: "We are at the dawn to reinvent agriculture education in the country. We hope to revolutionize our countryside and lift our farmers from poverty."

CyberDyaryo | 1999.05.27