Agriculture plays an important role in the Philippine economy. According to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO), agriculture contributes an average of 20 percent to the Gross Domestic Product of the country.

This comes mainly from agribusiness, which accounts for about 70 percent of the total agricultural output.

Agriculture makes up about 26 percent of the Filipino workforce.

To help develop the agriculture sector and uplift the economic status of rural communities, SM Foundation (SMFI) launched its Kabalikat Sa Kabuhayan on Sustainable Agriculture program (KSK) in 2007.

The social good agri-program of SMFI has evolved through the years, branching out to rural areas advocating urban farming, which became an alternative livelihood for marginalized Filipinos in the metropolis.

To advance its multi-stakeholder approaches, SMFI partnered with the Department of Agriculture (DA), Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD), Local Government Units and various non- government agencies.

SMFI strengthened its partnership with the Technical Education and Skills Development Authority (TESDA) in 2019 for scholarship grants focusing on Organic Agriculture Production NCII and Agricultural Crop Production NCII to almost 1,500 KSK beneficiaries nationwide. TESDA’s partner schools also served as advisors or “Big Brothers” of the participants. The program eventually created a new path wherein beneficiaries, aside from establishing their own agri-enterprises, are able to land green-collar jobs.

COVID-19 created a lot of challenges in the agricultural sector. Lockdowns affected the flow of goods from farms to urban markets, as well as the movement of labor. Families lost buying power so demand drastically fell.

As a strategy, the social good arm of SM reprogramed its KSK program implementation to conform to the existing local government and IATF rules and regulations. Through multi-stakeholder virtual consultations, SMFI, together with its partners innovated their approach to address the challenges

SMFI strengthened its regional execution by utilizing digital technology to coordinate with local-based partners. Participants were also downsized from 100 to 25 per batch (depending on local restrictions). Blended learning (face to face and virtual) was also adopted to cascade each agri-module, video messages from partner stakeholders were prepared in advance in anticipation of poor telco connectivity in grassroots. For the training module itself, the multi-stakeholder group incorporated all of their technical courses into

TESDA’s modular activities, creating added value to their existing curriculum.

Despite the pandemic, SMFI together with its partners was able to implement its sustainable agriculture program in more than 30 sites nationwide, providing 1,300 local farmers with competitive skills in agriculture certified by TESDA through their National Certificate Program.

KSK’s Big Brother Schools in Dinalupihan, Bataan and Kapangan, Benguet also extended their help in their respective localities, as did Big Brother partner schools D’Planner Farm School, St. Isidore Learning Center and Castro Tomas Farm Schools. The program also opened local agri-enterprise opportunities for KSK farmers. Through SMFI’s partnership with DSWD, DA, and DTI, the program was able to provide grants to qualified participants that they may use for their agri-start-ups.

The multi-stakeholder group also partnered with SM Markets, SM Supermalls, and SM Development Corp. (SMDC).

Through SMFI’s multi-stakeholder approach, KabalikatsaKabuhayan on Sustainable Agriculture was able to pool resources that enabled the social good program to scale up, reaching more people and increasing the impact of interventions. The strategy enabled various sectors to invest in smallholder farmers, giving them access to modern agri-technology, finance, and markets – aside from training them in applying climate-smart agricultural practices.

Source: Malaya