Thursday, March 19, 2015

Back to school

There is always something new to learn.
I’ve experienced that lesson once again on my first day of “school” at the International Training Center on Pig Husbandry in Lipa City, Batangas. In fact I picked up a lot of things from the lecturers, the officers and especially from my classmates who represent an inter-generational mix of people with as many business interests as there are breeds of pigs.
Even before classes started I learned that one classmate is a third generation young Filipino-Chinese onion trader engaged in providing capital to onion farmers, buying their harvests and selling the same in Divisoria. But now he is seriously studying other possibilities and businesses because smuggling has doomed the fate of honest to goodness traders of local onions. It seems that for all its claims about driving out corruption, the government has failed to stop large scale smuggling of onion particularly by Mainland Chinese operators who are classified as having “deep pockets, large capital and with the same amount of ruthlessness and willingness to do whatever it takes to win, even committing crimes.”
You know it’s bad when local investors and traders of local onion are worried enough to consider switching over to another industry!
As soon as that topic opened, other classmates chimed in about the pathetic situation of DA Secretary Proceso Alcala who everybody in agriculture claims is resigning in June to prepare for his candidacy as Governor or Congressman in Quezon Province. It is pathetic because he started out as the shining star in the P-Noy administration but ended up the way shooting stars do. His career in the Department of Agriculture has burned out and in terms of performance and contribution is lifeless, yet he continues to hold on to the title and position. That observation inadvertently dragged the name of Presidential best buddy Alan Purisima who’s continued refusal to opt for early retirement or disappear from the firing line is perceived as selfish, and together with Alcala have both proven to be detrimental to their respective branches or departments in government. To sum it up, it is sad to see years in public service close with a bad ending simply because men don’t know when to walk away into the sunset of their careers.
Fortunately politics is a short-lived topic for discussion among “agriculture” people and we spent most of our free time talking about the “basics course” we were all attending. Half of the class has had their feet wet for some time, investing thousands of pesos while learning on the job. I would bet that some of them are running scared and would like to make sure they are doing the right thing or want to improve their knowledge and skills. The other half of the class are the wiser ones who would rather spend P7,000 to figure out if they are cut out to run a piggery or not. Out of 24 in the class, it would be safe to say that at least five won’t be pushing through, another five will probably go all out and the 14 others will either sink or swim depending on whether the government can stop smuggling, get control of land use policies, and stop the reckless “desk top” conversion of agricultural lands into residential/commercial zones just so LGUs can collect higher taxes. Greedy and ambitious local government officials don’t realize that by driving out backyard farmers and livestock raisers they are endangering their food security and making the availability of food more difficult and unnecessarily expensive.
In one huddle we got to talking about the valuable contribution that the ITCPH Basic Course was making to improve the knowhow of backyard hog raisers and how such programs should be promoted, multiplied and supported.
We actually pushed for the ITCPH management to rearrange their schedules so they could hold a Summer Training Camp for young adults. If teenagers can learn about raising, caring, and breeding pigs, they would at least have a skill that they could use in life and maybe even get into the business of hog raising or one of its related livelihood such as trading, meat processing etc. I have no problems sending teenagers and young adults to singing and acting camps or letting them travel, but I am confident that a hands on summer course on Sows, piglets, Bio-Security and health care might even be the catalyst for them to become Veterinarians. At the very least it  will be a character building experience as well as a highly educational endeavor worth two weeks of their summer vacations.
Unfortunately, the people who could improve or promote many of the things we were talking about probably don’t even know of a facility called ITCPH. While Dr. Ruth Miclat-Sonaca and the officers of ITCPH have been doing a superb job providing training programs for beginners and industry practitioners, consultation services, research material, genetic materials for artificial insemination or running and maintaining the facility on a platform of self-sustainability, it would make a difference if their bosses such as Secretary Kiko Pangilinan could find time to discover what the ITCPH has achieved, and learn why people like us are willing to spend out of pocket and stay for 2 weeks to benefit from the training provided.    
Although not directly under Sec. Pangilinan, it is evident that the people behind ITCPH look up to the DA leadership not just for the traditional support but more importantly to share their work, accomplishments, as well as plans and visions in order to be aligned with the national government’s goals. They can also use a pat on the back and recognition for their hard work and doing a good job.
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