Report on the GFRAS Side Event on Farmers' Experiences in Advisory Services Activities

25 September 2012

PhilFaFo LogoAn informal coalition of national farmer organizations in the Philippines called the Philippine Farmers Forum conducted a side-event on 25 September 2012 as part of the activities of the GFRAS Annual Meeting held in Manila on 26-28 September 2012. The coalition is currently involved in an Asia-wide program supported by the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD) to strengthen farmer organizations and networks and improve their capacity to influence policy making at the national and regional levels.

The basic objective of the side event was to highlight the experiences of farmer organizations in providing extension and advisory services to their members and to draw from these lessons and recommendations to further improve advisory services for small producers both at the policy and program levels. The side event was attended by 56 participants, of whom 18 were female and 15 were foreign delegates to the GFRAS meeting. Most of the participants from the Philippines came from farmer organizations in the country.

After a short opening program, three case studies were presented by selected farmer leaders. The first presentor was Mr. Ruperto Aleroza, the Chairman of the National Union of Rural Based Organizations (PKSK) and also Chairman of the Philippine Farmers Forum. Mr. Aleroza enumerated the major problems being faced by small fisherfolk in the Philippines, such as continuing abject poverty, competition from cheap imports as a result of trade liberalization, the lack of support and recognition from the government, the effects of climate change, and the fragmentation of fisherfolk organizations. Among PKSK's activities in the area of advisory services were the facilitation of the registration of fisherfolk under the government's support programs, networking with various public and private agencies and organizations, advocacy work with legislators at the local and national level, and partnership with the local government for the implementation of community-based coastal resource management.

farmer siide eventAmong the major lessons learned by PKSK in delivering advisory services to its members were the importance of understanding the community situation, the need for fisherfolk communities to unite and define their common goals, and the critical role of fisherfolk organizations in asserting their members' rights and political power so that the government responds to their needs and interests. In this regard, Mr. Aleroza suggested that an information and education campaign be pursued to inform and educate fisherfolk, and that this should be supplemented by efforts that will allow fisherfolk communities and organizations to meaningfully participate in development planning, monitoring and implementation. He also highlighted the need to provide additional livelihood opportunities for fisherfolk, strengthen their organizations and internal capacities, and devise ways to sustain their organizations financially.

The second presentation was made by Mr. Raul Montemayor, the National Manager of the Federation of Free Farmers (FFF). He began by briefly describing his organization's activities in the area of advisory services, such as their organic rice promotion program which was followed by a bio-input production program through which farmer-members were taught how to produce their own fertilizers and pesticides using farm wastes and locally available materials. He added that the farmers have since been organized into production clusters which act as knowledge centers, production units, technology showcases and eventually as marketing units. To carry out these programs, the FFF conducted various types of training exercises, established village-level libraries, supported farmer-to-farmer exchanges and study visits, developed and disseminated training materials, and networked with other resource groups such as research agencies, agricultural state colleges and universities and non-government organizations.

Among the major lessons learned from FFF's activities were the need to show farmers visible impacts in order to convince them to adopt new technologies, and the importance of developing technologies that are affordable and adaptable by resource poor farmers. Mr. Montemayor added that technology adoption necessarily takes time and technology dissemination must focus on giving farmers more choices and enabling them to understand the science behind the technologies. He also highlighted the role of policy consistency and support, of farmer organizations, and of information technology in providing better advisory services to small farmers.

Mr. Montemayor recommended that technology products should be conceived and designed with a clear appreciation of the tangible benefits that farmers will get from such technologies. He also stressed the importance of linkages between the research and development groups with the extension and advisory service providers, the need for policy consistency and support for small producers, and the important role that farmer organizations can play in the design, implementation and evaluation of advisory services.

The third presentation was delivered by Mr. Antonio Santos, the Area Manager of the Pambansang Kilusan ng mga Samahang Magsasaka (PAKISAMA), who highlighted his organization's experience in promoting sustainable agriculture, and in particular, organic rice production among its members. He noted that their programs have since graduated from merely attempting to convince farmers to adopt certain technologies towards greater emphasis on farm diversification, productivity enhancement, self-reliance in input supply, and market access. He added that PAKISAMA has also gone into the organization of organic enterprises through which clusters producing organic products enhance their role in value chains and in the governance of agriculture and food systems.

Mr. Santos stressed the need to identify markets first before encouraging farmers to plant certain products. He added that financing requirements of small producers also need to be adequately addressed. He batted for an enhanced role of farmers in the value chain so that they can have better control over their products. This would need to be complemented by advocacy activities not only for improved governance of agriculture and food systems but more importantly to create an environment that is friendly and supportive to farmers' enterprises.

After the three presentations, a brief open forum ensued. Questions were raised on the implementation of local rules that restrict fishing in certain areas to small-scale fisherfolk and the need to rehabilitate mangrove areas. Mr. Aleroza noted deficiencies in the implementation of various national and local-level government programs even as he acknowledged the good intention and potential benefit of such programs. He stressed the need for strong fisherfolk organizations, including the development and deployment of fisherfolk-scientists who can work in tandem with government and other extension workers in delivering advisory services to fisherfolk.

A lively discussion arose from a query on whether farmers would be willing to pay for advisory services. It was noted that farmers had historically received extension and related services from government agencies for free and thus were not that receptive to shelling out money for such services. Nevertheless, it was noted that some farmer organizations have devised schemes to generate revenues, such as fee-based services, membership subscriptions, and payment-in-kind arrangements.

The decentralization of national government extension systems to local governments was also tagged as an important issue. It was noted that while there is no intrinsic problem with regards to decentralization, the process has often been carried out without providing adequate financial and technical support to local governments. As a result, public extension services have generally deteriorated, although this has also partly spurred NGOs, farmer organizations and other groups to establish their own extension and advisory services. Private companies such as seed and fertilizer dealers in turn have launched their own extension services as part of their marketing strategies.

After the coffee break, a fourth case study was presented by Mr. Jose Faustino, the Executive Director of the Coconut Industry Reform Movement (COIR). Mr. Faustino highlighted the fact that 80% of coconut-based products in the Philippines are exported while only 20% is domestically consumed. He added that coconut farmers are among the poorest in the country and stressed that they should now go into value-adding instead of selling their coconut as a raw product (mainly copra or dried coconut meat) to traders and oil mills. Among the opportunities are the production of coconut fiber and processing of coconut water into a health drink. He suggested that extension and advisory services for coconut farmers should be geared towards non-copra based coconut industries that will provide more livelihood and income opportunities for coconut farming communities.

The fifth and last speaker for the side event was Mr. Eduardo Landayan, the National President of the Kaisahan ng Mga Manggagawa sa Agrikultura (KMA). Mr. Landayan described the KMA's ongoing projects on organic fertilizer production and technology dissemination, including ratooning during the off season in order to have five paddy crops within 2 years (as against the normal 3 to 4 crops). Among his recommendations were that technologies that are disseminated to farmers should be mature and not theoretical, site-oriented, gradually introduced to allow for a smooth transition from current practices, should fit within the cultural understanding and practices of farmers, and should directly respond to the needs of the target recipients of the technology.

A second open forum then ensued. Clarificatory questions were raised on alternative coconut products like coconut sugar and pricing indicators for coconut products. The coconut levy issue was also discussed, and it was noted that the coconut farmers had recently won a partial victory following a Supreme Court decision to reassign some funds collected in the past as a levy on sales of copra to the government in behalf of coconut farmers. This fund, which may reach as much as Php 200 billion, can be used to fund value-adding projects and livelihood enterprises of coconut farmers.

A final question was raised on the sustainability of all these programs and initiatives in extension and advisory services. It was noted that this will depend to a large extent on the adoption of prescribed technologies by farmers and their appreciation of the services extended to them.

The side event ended at around 11:45am with Mr. Aleroza and Chairman of the Philippine Farmers Forum and Mr. Montemayor as organizer of the event giving brief closing statements.