QUEZON CITY, June 21, 2023 – In an agricultural development program like the Department of Agriculture – Special Area for Agricultural Development (DA-SAAD), the people considered the key actors in pursuing and realizing the very goal are, of course, the farmers and fisherfolk themselves.
SAAD not only acknowledges the vital role of the farmers as the key actors of agricultural development change, but it also recognizes them as primary movers to help pursue the very goals of prolific yield, progressive consolidation, mechanization, and professionalization, upliftment of the farmers and fishers marginalized condition, all subsequent to food sovereignty.
It is in the embodiment of the Area Coordinators (ACs) of the program, who possess the qualities and characteristics of primary movers of agricultural development that will closely work with the farmers to achieve such goals.
The ACs of the program play a critical role in the successful implementation and management of SAAD projects within a specific geographical area. This position holds significant responsibilities and functions to ensure the efficient and effective delivery of agricultural development programs to marginalized and underserved communities.
Dissecting the anatomy
The minimum requirement of becoming an AC in SAAD includes but not limited to a Bachelor’s degree in the following field: Agriculture, Agribusiness Management, Agricultural Economics, and Agricultural Engineering. ACs are preferable with extension work and community organizing experience in an agriculture-related field.
Regional and provincial management support offices are the ones responsible for filtering potential ACs as per the program’s Phase 2 Human Resource Manual.
ACs are expected to cover an average of 5 municipalities, which will account for an average of four (4) to six (6) farmers’ associations (FA) to manage.
From identifying beneficiaries from the SAAD Phase 2 set criteria as ratified in the Department Order No. 6, series of 2023 to organizing the farmers in the area as an association and assisting them in the necessary procedures of getting accredited; all of these as part of the social preparation component of the program.
In the social preparation period, from profiling, geo-tagging, interviewing, site validation, and assessing possible farmer beneficiaries until finally getting validated as formal beneficiaries of the program, the ACs have to assist, monitor, and walk through the farmers’ association up until the conduct of beneficiary needs assessment (BNA) or Participatory Rural Appraisal (PRA) to uncover the most suitable projects for the farmers and their community.
Following the social preparation is the food production and livelihood (FPL) component where there is provision of the livelihood projects tailor-fit and responsive to the FAs assessed condition, as well as specialized training necessary for upskilling the FA’s capability into managing the projects and operating it; to ensure the success and sustainability of the projects.
In the overall process of being a SAAD FA beneficiary, the journey will be intimately accompanied by the ACs, accordingly the need to equip ACs is a rudimentary factor in the implementation and functioning of the program.
The AC impact on project implementation
In the third-party assessment of the program’s social preparation and enterprise development conducted by the Central Luzon State University (CLSU), results revealed the correlation between the high adoption rate of the implemented livelihood projects and the effectiveness and closeness of the AC to the farmer’s association (FA). This entails clear and established communication between the AC and the FA, one that must spring from trust and understanding of the program’s goal.
The AC outlook
Currently, the program employs a total of 126 Area Coordinators who are managing 619 municipalities across the 15 covered regions for Phase 2.
For this write-up, ACs were interviewed to share their insights into their role in the Program’s goal in the countryside and how they perceived their line of work’s significance in the overall implementation.
SAAD MIMAROPA has made a striking contribution to providing services to the marginalized farmers and fishers in the province of Occidental Mindoro. During Phase 1, the Program has successfully delivered 281 livelihood projects ranging from rice, corn, high-value crops, and livestock and poultry to a total of 59 farmers’ associations.
Livelihood provisions include rice, corn, high-value crop production, and livestock and poultry-related projects, as well as organizational development and specialized training to effectively equip FAs in managing their projects.
All these strides to contribute to reducing poverty in the province of Occidental Mindoro were made possible with the dedication of the region’s ACs.
Mr. Vilmar J. Robes, the AC of the municipalities of Agutaya and Magsaysay, has been part of SAAD since 2019. Vilmar has helped in forming a total of 13 FAs, one (1) of which is from the Indigenous People’s group of Mangyan.
When asked about his experience as an AC, he shared, “As an AC, good communication skills and quality interaction with beneficiaries will help in the program implementation in order to discuss its project purpose and their responsibility to be achieved and proper dissemination of the DA livelihood program to the target farmer’s beneficiary,” referring to what personal skills he often uses when conducting field visit in the beneficiaries’ communities.
Mr. Vilmar also shared his vital qualities like readiness and willingness to provide time and effort to support and monitor every activity the FAs make relating to managing their livelihood projects.
He also stressed how proper coordination with the FA and partner agencies is crucial to the program implementation.
SAAD MIMAROPA was able to usher 15 community-based enterprises (CBEs) as it rounds off its Phase 1 implementation. For Phase 2 the region is set to cover two (2) provinces namely Romblon and Palawan.
SAAD Bicol was able to usher the establishment of 37 CBEs. The program was able to navigate and render service to 22 Regional Task Force to End Local Communist Armed Conflict (RTF-ELCAC) areas and Geographically Isolated and Disadvantaged Areas (GIDAs), providing access to agricultural inputs and various training to 286 FAs.
Ms. Maria Ligaya Renegado is the designated AC in the municipality of Juban, province of Sorsogon during the Phase 1 implementation. Ms. Renegado has been with SAAD Sorsogon since 2017 and she has been instrumental in the establishment of 21 FAs in Sorsogon, particularly in the municipality of Juban.
When asked what are her qualities that helped her as an AC, she responded: “Sa pagiging makatao ko sa parauma madali kong nakukuha ang loob nila at napapasunod kung ano layunin ng SAAD program” (By being humane to the farmers, I can easily win their hearts and make them follow the purpose of the SAAD program).
Ms. Maria also expressed that her shared vision with the program for the farmers is the reduction of poverty in the countryside which entails the sustainability of the projects of the FAs.
Presently, SAAD Bicol Phase 1 six (6) FAs participate in the agri-trade in SM City Sorsogon every Sunday of the week. Ms. Renegado along with other DA programs in the province coordinates and links the FA to the organizer of the agri-trade. The said trade becomes an opportunity for the FAs to further engage in economic activities and establish new market linkage outside their community.
Relative to marketing, Ms. Renegado has helped the FAs to create a social media presence to market their products. Ms. Renegado also regularly creates TikTok videos promoting the FAs’ products.
Moreover, in the current Phase 2 implementation Ms. Renegado is now assigned to the municipality of Barcelona, Sorsogon.
In SAAD Caraga, program implementers in its Phase 1 implementation were able to generate a total of eight (8) CBEs engaged in abaca, livestock, and poultry production. SAAD Caraga was able to cater agricultural development opportunities to 6 ELCAC and GIDA areas accounting for 13 FA beneficiaries.
Mr. Richard Lalisan, AC covering the municipalities of Sison og and Malimono, province of Surigao del Norte (SDN). Mr. Lalisan has been an AC since 2019, assisting a total of four (4) FAs, two (2) each of the municipalities he was assigned to.
When asked about the qualities he possessed that helped him as AC, Mr. Lalisan shared: “Ang maayo nga pakig halubilo og kapwa-tao sa atong mga farmer’s beneficiaries og lain pang mga sector nga ahensya nga nakatabang sa implementation sa SAAD Program. Ang pagka simpli sa tanan panahon aron makasabot ta sa kahimtang sa kalisod nga gisagubang sa atong mga farmers og makahatag tah og mga suhestiyon arun nga masolusyonan nila kining problema.”
(The good relationship between our farmer’s beneficiaries and other sector agencies that helped in the implementation of the SAAD Program. Being simple [with explaining] all the time so that we can understand the situation of difficulty that our farmers are dealing with and can give suggestions so that they can solve this problem.)
Mr. Lalisan also shared his strengths as an AC, “Adunay gugma, willingness sa trabaho, taas nga pasensya. Ang gugma nimu sa imuhang trabaho mao ang usa ka pundasyon arun magpabilin ka nga malig-on og magpadayun ka sa matarong nga panerbesyo sa atong farmers beneficiaries og wiling ka muhatag.”
(There is love, willingness to work, and long patience. Our love for our work is a foundation for you to remain strong and continue to provide fair service to our farmer-beneficiaries and your willingness to give.)
In a day-to-day implementation, Mr. Lalisan also acknowledges the challenges they face as implementers, one of which is the security and safety risk considering some of the beneficiaries are situated in conflicted areas.
Further, Mr. Lalisan adds his shared vision with the program: “Ang SAAD gituman nah, salig lang, mao ni nga linya ang permi namu gipasabot sa mga farmers beneficiaries og ginabitbit inubanan sa programa sa SAAD aron mapadayag namu kung unsa kanindot nga mahimong usa ka benepisyaryo sa kani nga programa nga makahatag jud kini og dakung tabang sa atong mga farmers og makadugang sa ilahang inadlaw-adlaw nga pangawarta aron makatabang kini sa paghaw-as nila sa kalisod.”
(SAAD is being implemented with trust, this is the line that we always explain to the farmers’ beneficiaries and carry along with the SAAD program so that we can realize the outcomes as beneficiaries of the program, one is to provide assistance to our farmers, increase their daily income and help them assuage their hardships.)
It can be observed how ACs are the frontliners of the program in implementing the livelihood projects, they are the persons who represents the program in front of the farmers, conducting meetings, turnover, coordination with partner stakeholders, collecting the report of yield and financial report; indeed a healthy relationship between the AC and the farmers is a crucial key in the success of the program.
In an interview with the National Program Management Office (NPMO) Deputy Director, Dr. Pedro “Doc Pete” Dumaraos Jr., he shared how he has such high regard for the ACs for they are the backbone of the program directly dealing with farmer-beneficiaries.
Doc Pete also discussed the several qualities ACs possess, one is being passionate and always doing everything from the heart. Doc Pete sees ACs as community development workers of the program, therefore, must emulate love in their work and, of course, love for the farmers.
The Deputy Director also stressed that ACs should be comfortable talking with the farmers, and farmers should also feel comfortable talking with the ACs for them to share their plight and actual conditions, as well as get the comprehensive condition of the farmers that the ACs can use to craft plans suitable and responsive to their needs. Because ACs must be good planners, he added.
Additionally, during fieldwork, an AC should be flexible since the condition in the community is very dynamic. Hence having effective skills in coordination, facilitation in focused-group discussion, writing, and documentation are all ACs should have in their day-to-day fieldwork.
Dr. Dumaraos underscored how given any circumstances and conditions ACs should have a bag of tricks filled with various approaches.
Lastly, he reiterated how everything must be done with the heart, hence ACs as SAAD development workers should be an embracer of the concepts and principles of participatory development and must be a firm believer in the statement development for all.###
Writer: Allanes Bagoso, DA-SAAD NPMO Information Officer
Melissa F. Lingco, DA-SAAD MIMAROPA Information Officer
Juan Paulo A. Quizana, DA-SAAD Bicol Information Officer
Mark Angelo C. Pineda, DA-SAAD Caraga Information Officer