Mastering value chains in the Philippines

25 September 2020
Agribusiness masterclass

More than 30 research and agribusiness specialists from the Philippines have completed a year-long agribusiness masterclass, committing to use their new skills and knowledge to help respond to the challenges caused by the COVID-19 pandemic. 

During the last 12 months, masterclass participants worked on enhancing their skills and knowledge on agribusiness challenges and value chains, developing projects to help smallholder farmers take a consumer-focused approach in producing food to further boost incomes and livelihoods.

Run by Australia’s Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation (CSIRO) and the Philippines Foodlink Advocacy Cooperative, the course was co-funded by ACIAR and the Department of Science and Technology - Philippine Council for Agriculture, Aquatic and Natural Resources Research and Development (DOST-PCAARRD).

‘Australia, through ACIAR, is committed to continue working with the Philippines in finding solutions to improve agricultural productivity, sustainability and food systems resilience, all of which are so much more important now, during and post-pandemic,’ said Australian Ambassador to the Philippines, Steven J. Robinson AO.

Consisting of three modules, the masterclass helped participants analyse agribusiness value chains; identify ways to improve processes; engage with stakeholders; and respond to external risks such as climate change. For the last three months, the masterclass shifted to online learning due to COVID-19 restrictions, with the course redesigned to capture how the pandemic would impact value chains and smallholder communities.

The COVID-19 pandemic has highlighted the importance, and necessity, of strong and resilient food systems. While we are not yet seeing a global food crisis due to the pandemic, the risk remains high, particularly in terms of disruptions to supply and marketing chains, and access to food for the most vulnerable populations,’ said Professor Andrew Campbell, ACIAR Chief Executive Officer.

‘We are proud to support a network of researchers who think outside the box, and know-how to bridge gaps between industry, science and policy, particularly through the masterclass program and other research initiatives in the Philippines.’                  

Agribusiness Masterclass participants meeting online as they near completion of their year-long course.
Agribusiness Masterclass participants meeting online as they near completion of their year-long course.

Through value chain analysis, research programs can incorporate a broader range of factors and relationships that affect the sustainability and competitiveness of agricultural products. This further allows research managers to work with stakeholders from the public and private sector—farmers, agribusinesses, government representatives and academics—to gain a better understanding of risks, bottlenecks and opportunities along the value chain.

The 32 masterclass graduates reflected on their journey in a virtual ‘Call-to-Action’ event last week, where they committed to applying their learnings to help rural communities, particularly in response to the disruptions caused by the pandemic. The participants have been studying value chains across several industries such as cacao, coffee, vegetables, digital marketing, catfish, and cross-cutting themes on biosecurity and electronic payment capacities.

The masterclass is also enhancing the implementation of DOST-PCAARRD’s Industry Strategic Science and Technology Plan, a blueprint for the different science and technology plans for selected agricultural commodities. The program describes the targets for each industry and pinpoints the aspects of the industry where science and technology will make a difference.

DOST-PCAARRD Executive Director, Dr Reynaldo Ebora said, ‘Through the AMC, a collaborative initiative with ACIAR to develop inclusive value chains in the agriculture, aquatic and natural resources(AANR) sectors, there will be an assimilation of agribusiness and value chain thinking among the ISP managers and DOST-PCAARRD researchers to further develop the plan, and hence, improve the trajectory of the AANR industries.’

‘Furthermore, DOST-PCAARRD is committed to sustain and institutionalise agribusiness through the establishment of the Agribusiness Unit which will be jointly implemented by our Socio-Economics Research Division and Technology Transfer and Promotion Division under the DOST-PCAARRD Innovation and Technology Center. This initiative will put together the science of agribusiness through R&D, technology transfer, private-public partnerships, and capacity building.’

Agribusiness Masterclass participants at a workshop in 2019 before COVID-19 restrictions forced the course to move online.
Agribusiness Masterclass participants at a workshop in 2019 before COVID-19 restrictions forced the course to move online.

One of the participants from the private sector, Leilani Briosos-McDonough, a program manager at the Aboitiz Foundation Inc, said that the masterclass has helped her better understand how her organisation’s initiatives, which tend to focus on just one segment in the value chain, could contribute to providing solutions to complex and system-wide problems.

Moreover, she says that learning about COVID-19 effects on value chains and food systems have been very useful to the participants.

’While we are working on short-term response activities to help our assisted communities, we know that these projects will help them quickly recover and reinvent or pivot themselves to thrive in this new and challenging environment. By identifying where the constraints are in value chains, as well as opportunities brought about by the pandemic, we will come up with projects that are designed to be more relevant, because they are needs and evidence-based.’

CSIRO Research Group Leader, Dr Lilly Lim-Camacho, said ‘the masterclass is designed to build a cohort of leaders embedded across sectors that support Philippine agriculture – research, policy and business. We recognise that the change we need to see on the ground can be achieved if we are better connected, and if we understand each other’s priorities. That is what is at the heart of well performing value chains.’ 

Since 1983, ACIAR has been investing in and brokering research partnerships with the Philippines, helping build a more productive, resilient and sustainable agriculture. ACIAR has brought together Australian and Filipino scientists and researchers to work on solutions for challenges across key agricultural sectors.

The masterclass was funded through the ACIAR Agribusiness research program. Learn more via the project website.