The Advanced Agribusiness Management Course for Executives and Managers held in Bangkok, Thailand involved various leaders and stakeholders in the field of agribusiness from countries across Asia. It became a venue for the participants to identify common problems in the said field, and introduce innovative solutions to these problems, through the sharing of best practices and learnings.
The event was organized by the Asian Productivity Organization, along with Cornell University, and the support of the Thailand Productivity Institute. Participants to the 5-day course were exposed to hands-on workshops, lectures, and a series of interactive discourse sessions with various experts in the field of agribusiness. The course was a very potent venue for gaining a more global perspective on the state of agribusiness, and how these global perspectives affect various industries, SMEs, and even individual stakeholders in the field.
OBJECTIVES FOR PARTICIPATION
The primary purpose I had for participating was to build a wider network of business contacts, as well as to gather relevant information on the current market trends in agribusiness, particularly within and surrounding the ASEAN region.
Representing the Philippines, and my business, Rosa Farms, I introduced low productivity of mangoes being one of the key management issues faced by the farm since its establishment. Thus, I sought for creative alternatives for income-generation, while simultaneously addressing the issue on productivity. Addressing these concerns was another main reason for my participation in the workshop, hoping to gain knowledge and guidance from the facilitator-experts, speakers, and other co-participants.
Prior to attending the event, I was expecting that the course will be a traditional, lecture-based, and highly-technical workshop, which became a cause for anxiety on my end, being worried that my limited technical knowledge in agriculture and agribusiness may constrain my appreciation of the discussions.
PROFILE OF PARTICIPANTS
There were around 25 participants to the agribusiness course, from different Asian countries, along with a panel of around 10 key experts / resource persons. From the Philippines, there were three (3) representatives (including myself). Below is a summary of our profiles:
MR. BRIAN TAN
Bethany Management Inc.
– a company engaged in the processing and distribution of coconut-based products.
RENEE FRANCESCA KING
Tamang Timpla Foods, Inc.
– focusing on the processing of kalamansi as the primary product of her organization.
LEONARDO ZULUETA JR.
Head of Legal & Operations
Rosa Farms, Inc.
– a mango orchard being developed as an agri-tourism destination in the province of Zambales.
Collectively, we were able to present a country report, highlighting common problems being faced by our businesses, along with local trends affecting different aspects of agriculture and agribusiness within the country.
The other participants to the course were also mostly from the private sector, along with government officials, academicians, and officers from NGOs. The most active discussions, throughout the workshop, were usually initiated by participants from the private sector.
Another notable aspect to this workshop was the active involvement of several of the younger participants, including ourselves from the Philippine delegation. The younger participants from the Philippines, Malaysia, & ROC Taiwan acted as group leaders and speakers, initiating discussions and fruitful discourse with the resource speakers.
SCOPE, CONTENT, METHODOLOGY
The advanced course was designed to present a cascading approach to the trends in agribusiness from key areas around the world. The workshop began with a series of lectures from the resource speakers, presenting a macro-perspective of the market, competition, technology, and other issues affecting agribusinesses from a wider worldview.
From this macro perspective, the succeeding presentations from the resource speakers introduced issues and trends on the micro perspective, providing practical and “on-the-ground” narratives (all on the first day of the event). These set the overall tone for the following days of the workshop.
Days 2-5 of the course were more designed to be more hands-on and interactive for the core participants. The sessions were divided with a mix of lectures from the resource speakers, Q&A sessions, group work, one field visit, and occasional informal open fora. Participation from the core group was very active throughout the workshops.
Innovation in addressing issues in agribusiness became one of the core topics throughout the event. The concept of innovation was thus dissected to include varied approaches, such as incubation of ideas in R&D, redesigning of business models to include an agro-tourism component, new marketing methods, and the use of emerging technologies.
Another key issue that was highlighted throughout the workshops was the need for the involvement of the younger generation in agribusiness. Agriculture has never been regarded as a “sexy” or attractive field for the younger generation to venture into. This was a critical challenge being faced all over the globe. Participants were unanimous in agreeing that this is a real threat to the future of agribusiness. Actions should be taken in making agriculture and agribusiness attractive options for the youth to pursue.
COUNTRY PAPER PRESENTATION
Our delegation from the Philippines was able to present individual reports, focusing on the common problems affecting agribusinesses within the Philippine setting. Production and the lack of access to raw material were common issues presented, not only with the reports from the Philippines, but to other neighboring Asian countries as well.
The difference between the content of the country reports seemed to focus on the availability or access to technology for end-users. The availability of support from government, NGOs, and academic institutions also played crucial roles in determining successes and failures of initiatives undertaken by SMEs. Nevertheless, the availability of training and access to information to farmers, producers, and other stakeholders in the field of agribusiness are potential solutions to these problems, coupled with the availability of new technologies.
OUTCOMES AND EVALUATION
The handling and overall outcome of the event exceeded my personal expectations, where I was not only able to gather learnings and the business direction I needed for Rosa Farms, but more significantly, the exposure to the emerging global trends that I have to take into account, making myself reconsider a redesign of the business model being implemented for the farm. My participation to the event proved to be a very valuable and exceedingly fruitful opportunity.
Surprisingly, the general atmosphere of the event was very comfortable and open, allowing the participants to freely discuss ideas and opinions with the event experts and facilitators (with the occasional debates). This was a pleasant deviation from my personal expectation prior to the event, as I was anticipating the event to be a formal sit-down and mostly lecture-based affair. Personally, the interactive approach allowed me to freely discuss business and management-related issues with other stakeholders, and gather different opinions and recommendations. Notably, even outside the formal confines of the workshop, my interactions with other participants are also very productive, where they have provided me with pieces of advice and tips in moving my business forward.
As an overall evaluation of the event, the facilitators likewise claimed that our batch seemed to be the most active and participative, perhaps attributable to the right mix of the specializations and profiles of the participants.
RECOMMENDATIONS AND ACTION STEPS
Greater involvement of the younger generation, particularly from the private sector.
There are two particular highlights that I have observed throughout the event – the first is that the most pressing issues in agribusiness have been raised by participants from the private sector, and the second being that the younger participants are able to provide more modern approaches to addressing these issues. With the help of the key experts in the workshop, these issues became central topics for discussion, enabling participants from the private, public, and academic sectors to provide their own views towards problem-solving.
Nevertheless, a balanced blend of senior and junior participants in the workshop also helped in tempering ideas into being more realistic and practical, particularly in the field of agribusiness where experience is critical.
A more comprehensive Field Visit
On the fourth day of the workshop, a site visit was conducted in one of the production / processing plants of the largest agro-business entities in Thailand, the Betagro Group. While this site visit enabled workshop participants to take a brief overview on how the business operates, the experience could have been more effective if a more participative approach was conducted.
With innovation being one of the key topics of the workshop, the field visit could have been a venue for the participants to personally observe new technologies and non-confidential business processes.
In Targeting Participants from the Philippines, expand opportunity to more stakeholders.
Being a first-time participant to this type of workshop, the overall experience provided a very effective learning tool, allowing myself to be exposed to the global scenario of agribusiness. This exposure is very powerful in improving businesses and industries within the Philippines. Accordingly, expanding this opportunity to more potential participants from around the Philippines, including those starting to venture into agribusiness, will definitely yield positive results.
LEONARDO C. ZULUETA, JR.
Head, Operations and Legal
Rosa Farms Inc.