Thursday, 27 November 2014

Vietnam discipline for PH agriculture

For Philippine agriculture to significantly improve, it should follow the culture of Vietnam discipline. The two most relevant parts of this discipline for the Department of Agriculture to consider following are: back-up and follow-up.
Agriculture Secretary Proceso Alcala is exemplary in his commitment to agricultural development, especially in helping small farmers and fisherfolk. However, the DA has sometimes not implemented his vision because of little back-up and even less follow-up. It was precisely these two areas that I saw the Vietnamese excel in during my five-day stay last week in Hanoi, Vietnam.
I have been working closely with the Vietnamese for the last seven years. Since Vietnam is one of the six member countries of the Asean Federation of Cement Manufacturers (AFCM), which I used to head as president and as Cement Manufacturers Association of the Philippines (CeMAP) president, I have observed at close range their praiseworthy discipline. No wonder they won the Vietnam War, and surpass the Philippines in agriculture.
My observations have surfaced two critical ingredients of their success: backup and follow-up. When a top manager issues a directive, he ensures that his subordinate managers back him up with clear objectives, targets and timetables. But this is only half the story.
The more important part is the thorough follow-up done by his backup managers. They do not wait for the deadline to see if the objective has been accomplished. Instead, they make several follow-ups to ensure that the task is being done according to schedule. When there are failures, they take corrective measures and inform the top manager. This manager then takes a hands-on approach for serious discrepancies. This way, everybody down the line knows that the top manager is kept aware of their work, with rewards and penalties given as appropriate.
On the other hand, the DA experience indicates that a lack of backup and follow-up has been a hindrance in fulfilling Alcala’s vision, directions and programs. Here are a few examples:
On Feb. 10, 2011, the Agriculture Fisheries 2025 Conference (AF2025) jointly convened by Alcala, Congressional Agriculture Committee Chairs Senator Francisco Pangilinan and Representative Mark Mendoza, and farmer/fisherfolk leaders, approved an important recommendation. In view of the Asean integration in 2015, the conference asked the DA to lead in the formulation of agricultural commodity roadmaps. Some of the conference participants also recommended roadmaps for industry. While some industry roadmaps were completed as early as October 2012, there is still no completed agricultural commodity roadmap with a joint public-private sector backup team. More backup and follow-up could have avoided this delay.
Because of rampant pork smuggling and the entry of imported frozen pork into wet markets with no refrigeration facilities, more than 20 percent of our backyard swine raisers have lost their livelihoods. Alcala has ordered the DA’s involvement in the National Competitiveness Council’s Anti-smuggling Committee. But the consistent DA representative has a rank lower than assistant division chief, compared to the director rank of the DTI. Alcala also issued a Department Administrative Order (DAO) on Jan. 12, 2012 penalizing unsafe frozen meat entry into wet markets with no refrigeration facilities. But it is only two years later that the DA is considering taking decisive action on apprehending violators on a year-round basis instead of just during the Christmas season. It is in-between the Christmas seasons that our backyard swine raisers lose much of their livelihood to the illegal frozen meat that enter the wet markets.
“Alyansa Agrikultura and many other groups have formulated recommendations which Alcala has approved. But because of inadequate backup and followup, these recommendations have not been implemented. A specific recommendation deserves special mention because it improves performance using the globally recognized ISO 9000 management system. Improving performance (and even detecting corruption) is achieved with this institutionalized mechanism. The few DA bureaus that have adopted this system have shown significant improvement. Many more should follow their example, especially since ISO 9000 has its own internal backup and follow-up procedures.
Alcala’s vision is commendable but inadequate back-up and follow-up has been responsible for many of the shortfalls in fulfilling his vision. Following Vietnamese discipline is a key to hasten Philippine agriculture development and inclusive growth, especially for small farmers and fisherfolk.
(The author is chair of Agriwatch, former Secretary for Presidential Flagship Programs and Projects, and former Undersecretary for Agriculture, Trade and Industry. For inquiries, e-mail or telefax 8522112.)

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