Arsenio “Toto” Barcelona is the president of Harbest Agribusiness. He is shown in photo in his roofdeck garden of high-value crops.

What the country needs today are quality agriculture graduates who can be relied upon to undertake agricultural pursuits whether as farmers, entrepreneurs, employees, teachers or scientists.

This was the challenge hurled before participants in the Asian Association of Agricultural Colleges and Universities (AAACU) 22nd biennial conference held at the Visayas State University in Baybay, Leyte. The challenge came from Arsenio “Toto” Barcelona, a most successful agribusiness entrepreneur who founded Harbest Agribusiness 20 years ago.

Barcelona stressed that the young agricultural students that are entrusted to each AAACU member institution should be nurtured. Like a good seed that is not planted in the field yet, it has to be stored in the right temperature, humidity and packaging. By the time these seeds are sown, they should be viable and full of vigor.

SCIENCE OF FARMING – He continued that each student should be properly educated on the science of farming – understanding the seed, soil, sun, water, climate changes, plant and animal nutrition, pests and diseases, finance, management and marketing. Or some may opt to be scientists to continue scientific researches to produce abundantly quality food to feed the people of the world.These future scientists should be motivated and inspired to pursue a career as scientists with competent mentors.

Agriculture students should experience actual practice and hone their skills while in school. These could include skills in research, sharpening their observation on plant growth, effects of different soil conditions, understanding photosynthesis. Skills in planting different crops or raising animals or fish for business. Skills in costing their products. Skills in marketing. Skills in managing an agribusiness enterprise.

EARNING MONEY – Barcelona said that agriculture students should experience the success of earning money from the products they produce while in their third or fourth year. A horticulture student should know how to plant and manage a hectare of eggplant. A crop science student should know how to prevent or control armyworms. An aquaculture student should know how to plan a 2,000-square meter aquaculture pond and raise tilapia. A vetmet student should learn to operate a 10,000-head poultry farm and manage it proitably. All these experiences should be gained while still in school.

Barcelona shared his own experience on how a successful agri-entrepreneur should be. Well, he should possess 10% science, 40% skills through experience and 50% good character.The school, he stressed, should provide at least 50% for science and skills while sharing with the parents of the students the remaining 50% for character formation. He hastened to add that there should be 100% effort and determination on the part of the student.

NO FUNCTIONING FARM MODEL – Barcelona said that he has visited several agricultural schools in the Philippines. “I have yet to see a functioning farm model that is bearing plenty of fruits with drip irrigation and well-managed. Greenhouses are not maintained and unproductive. Farm equipment are on display but not allowed to be used by agricultural engineering students. Many have dilapidated or non-functioning facilities. There are many with good facilities but low utilization due to lack of experts or qualified professors.” He hastened to add though that there are of course exceptional facilities and well-managed training courses in some schools.

QUALITY TEACHERS – The teaching staff of each school should b e up to date in their technologies – their field of expertise as well as the effective pedagogical method to transfer knowledge to the students. It is the responsibility of the school administration and the government to support the education of quality teachers. Scholarships for further studies abroad with full financial support should be optimized.

SHORT COURSES – Short courses on how to plant specific crops or raise specific animals can be provided as elective with intensive and supervised field practice. These should be done in one crop cycle to hone the skills of the students. In short, they can produce natural quality and safe fruits, vegetables, eggs, meat and fish or ornamantals by the end of the course. Schools should have functioning field classrooms and laboratories where students can practice anytime during the course. These can even attract more students to take the special courses.

At the end of the day, Barcelona said, students will also realize the income potential of producing food. Schools should nurture agri-entrepreneurs. Field trips to operating farms, get-togethers with successful entrepreneurs, value-adding technologies exposure and skills development, seminars on credit facilities and actual interaction with financial experts, setting up start-up enterprise, chats with marketing experts, understanding business laws, exposure to distribution channels and retailers. All these can be part of class activities and incorporated in the regular curriculum.

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