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Scaling up agricultural production among small farmers through clustering and organizing them into cooperatives and various types of producers' organizations, and forging partnerships with agribusiness firms can help raise their incomes and subsequently spur the socio-economic transformation of the Philippine countryside.

A report titled “Realizing Scale in Smallholder-Based Agriculture: Policy Options for the Philippines” – launched jointly by the World Bank and the Department of Agriculture (DA) – said that there are rich lessons in the country and abroad for these clustering and consolidation of activities on-farm and along the value chain to succeed and transform the agricultural sector.

One notable example of this approach, the report said, is the Philippine Rural Development Project (PRDP), which is currently implemented by the DA. The PRDP clusters or organizes producers into enterprises that take a business-oriented approach to farming and fishing, supported through complementary investments in infrastructure such as farm-to-market roads, irrigation, post-harvest facilities, and cold storage.

Philippine agriculture is dominated by small farmers and fishers who operate independently, mostly using traditional production practices and earning low incomes. A typical farmer earns an average of P100,000 pesos each year, well below the poverty line (based on 2015 PSA figures).

Average farm size declined from three hectares (ha) per family per holding in the 1980s to only 0.9 ha per family per holding in 2012. These increasingly smaller farms are often split into more fragmented blocks. The country has some 5.56 million farms, totaling 7.2 million hectares, of which more than half (57 percent) are one ha or less, 32 percent are one to three ha, 9 percent are three to seven ha, and only two percent are seven ha or larger.

Agriculture Secretary William Dar has highlighted that using modern technology, schemes like block farming, trust farming, and contract farming can make farming more efficient and profitable for farmers and their partners in agribusiness ventures. With higher and better-quality production, linking agriculture to the domestic and global manufacturing sectors and accessing markets become easier, he said.

Global experience shows that forcing collaboration among farmers and agribusiness enterprises through decree or subsidies (top-down approach) usually does not work but those that emerge from farmers’ bottoms up collective initiatives yield good results.

The report says that the country can explore various arrangements based on global experiences, including:

Realizing scale in primary production. In the Philippines, perhaps the most promising areas to pursue clustering can be among selected irrigation schemes where water user associations are already well established; and within Agrarian Reform Communities supported by the Department of Agrarian Reform.

Supporting market-oriented producer organizations. Encouraging the growth of cooperatives and producer organizations. In the East Asia region, Japan, South Korea, and Taiwan have had especially rich experiences promoting farmer groups or cooperatives.

Fostering contract farming, productive alliances, or other linkages between farmers groups and agricultural enterprises. These are well understood in the Philippines and can be scaled up.

Elsewhere in the region, contract farming has become increasingly common in some value chains, including value chains for specialized rice varieties or rice production systems.