Signing the memorandum of agreement are (from left) Arsenio Barcelona of Harbest Agribusiness Inc., Agriculture Secretary Emmanuel Piñol, and SM Foundation Inc. executive director Debbie Sy.

SM Foundation has renewed an agreement with the Department of Agriculture to train farmers nationwide even as their partnership enters its 11th year, or since the foundation launched its maiden Kabalikat sa Kabuhayan Farmers’ Training Program in 2007.

The memorandum signing was held at the office of Agriculture Secretary Emmanuel Piñol, who inked the pact with SM Foundation executive director Debbie Sy and Cristie Angeles, assistant vice president for Livelihood of SM Foundation.

SM Program partners Harbest Agriculture Inc. and Macondray Philippines Inc. were represented by Arsenio Barcelona and Emmanuel Demdam, respectively. They signed the memorandum of agreement with Agriculture Undersecretary Evelyn Lavina for High Value Crops and Rural Credit.

Under the agreement, the DA will provide the manpower support from the regional field offices of the High Value Crops Development Coordinator to identify possible sites of the training farms.

Training farms for rural areas must be 5,000 sq m while urban farms should be at least 1,000 sq m. These areas should be accessible to farmer participants with existing irrigation.

DA will select 50 farmer participants to the session and will ensure the cooperation of the host local government unit. It will also provide technical support and assist in the provision of filed extension services, among others.

SM Foundation commits to provide the funding for the season-long training modules on vegetable farming. It will work as the principal sponsor of the project and provide the template for its implementation; help disseminate project information to other potential project beneficiaries through media, publications and seminars; and organize project launching with the beneficiaries and harvest festival cum graduation ceremony at nearby SM Mall or other activity centers.

The Foundation also recently launched the training program in urban settings as one of the banner corporate social responsibility programs initiated by SM founder Henry Sy Sr.

The project principally aims to provide hands-on season-long training on vegetable farming for marginalized farmers to produce quality and high yielding vegetables to enhance their livelihood opportunities for their families.

It had engaged the services of Harbest and Macondray and made them integral parts of the MOA.

Pinol said the usual problem of farmers is finding market for their produce but with SM malls already in place to absorb their products, then farmers have no more reason not to get into farming.

Angeles said the farmers will be organized into groups and their outputs will be consolidated so that they sell directly to a consolidator (such as SM suppliers) who will pay them in cash at current prices.

Debbie Sy said the experience of SM Foundation in the previous training programs they have undertaken is that farmers continue with the new knowledge they acquired and sell to these consolidators while reserving some for their own needs and those of their families and communities.

She added that the urban gardening project has gained traction in Metro Manila, for LGUs that have lands to spare for the project and even high-class condo dwellers who produce their own (potted) veggies right at their homes.

So far, the foundation has undertaken training programs for urban farming or urban gardening in Caloocan, Makati, Pasay, Taguig, Quezon City, Pasig, and Taytay, while rural training programs have reached 180 LGUs so far.

Source: Manila Standard