New breed of AgRiDOCs or Agricultural Development Officers of the Community are receiving guidance from distinguished scientists, institution builders, and multi-awarded agricultural extension officers in a four-month course titled, Enabling the AgRiDOC: A New Breed of Rice Extensionists.
Through informal conversations aiming to inspire and help trainees deepen their sense of mission, the course aims to strengthen rice extension in the country. Agriculture champions shared their insights on leadership, building on social capital, implementing projects, and overcoming challenges.
Learning from the legends
Right attitude leads to success despite struggles in life. For Institution builders, Dr. Santiago Obien, first executive director of PhilRice, and Dr. Fernando Bernardo, Visayas State University’s (VSU) pioneer president, revealed their lessons as subordinates before becoming respected leaders. The two related they came from a poor family.
“As a working student, when my supervisor says I spray the field at six in the morning, that means I should come earlier to have everything ready, and start spraying before six,” Obien recollected.
Meanwhile, Bernardo recalled when as a student laborer, he had to wake up very early in the morning as it was the best time to clean.
Both Obien and Bernardo are known sticklers for time and have imposed same work ethic and high standards when they became leaders. Bernardo related in jest that the only Visayan phrase he learned while at VSU was “Dugay kaayo!” (It’s taking too long!)
On the other hand, Obien always made sure he was on the ground, personally instructing laborers how to do their tasks properly to avoid wasting time and resources.
Building relationships and partnerships
For the county’s well-known agriculturists, building trust and empathy through community immersion is important to develop a good relationship with the rice farmers.
“To easily gain farmers’ trust, I eat what they eat and wear similar pieces of clothing,” said Dr. Thelma Paris, well-recognized gender scientist. Attentiveness and enthusiasm when with farmers, Paris added, are vital to earning that coveted trust. Agreeing with Paris, agriculturist Zenaida Villanueva of Naujan, Mindoro Oriental said that, “Being on time shows your eagerness to work with farmers – this makes them feel important, valued and can immensely strengthen your bond with them.”
Agricultural champions also stressed that the AgRiDOCs must maintain a healthy relationship with colleagues and future partners.
Bulacan provincial agriculturist, Gloria Carillo explained that opportunities and benefits should be evenly distributed, as much as possible, in all areas of the province. “We don’t play favorites. Our office makes sure that every municipality is involved in projects conducted with private sectors.”
Not selfishly withholding research results is also another recipe. As Alvaro Pamplona, well-recognized plant breeder of International Rice Research Institute (IRRI) said, he does not keep the information to himself; he shares it with his colleagues.
Julian Lapitan, former extension worker at the Department of Agriculture (DA) and former head of IRRI partnerships office, related his key strategy: “I call it social capital. I would have a family friend or a key contact person in every place or office I go to. I give personalized gifts and really nurture the relationship.”
Sustaining development projects
Recognized extension and development workers emphasized the skills not only in implementing projects but also in sustaining them.
To do this, Lapitan suggested empowering farmers by developing their capabilities and market linkages. “Leaders change all the time. If we can inculcate the right mindset and skills to our farmers, then what was started will have a better chance of being continued,” Lapitan stressed.
Establishing good relationships with supervisors, planning officers, and project partners also helps sustain project life. Multi-awarded agricultural extension officers, Ester Solamo of Banaybanay, Davao Oriental, and Alicia Rebuelta of Kalibo, Aklan all related this.
Solamo urged the new breed of extensionists to always give their best and be ready with a proposal: “A small project can become big. If you do well, you get recognized, and it usually comes with a prize or an offer to expand the project. The funding agency will need a proposal to make this happen. ”
Challenges as opportunities
With its complexities, the agriculture industry is frequently beset with problems. The urgent task, according to the agriculture champions, is how to turn these challenges into opportunities.
For Bernardo, “I always look for challenges because challenges inspire me. If I could do something, I like that!”
The key is to be passionate. “If you love your work, you will always go the extra mile to overcome difficulties,” Paris stressed.
“As long as you are fulfilled to see our farmers happy, continue. Work hard. Keep on walking. People will recognize your efforts eventually,” Casimero said.
Meanwhile, the participants said the sessions with the country’s recognized extensionists are empowering.
“The conversations with these agriculture champions were very empowering. It makes you feel ready to get out there and give your best,” Myla Blanco of LGU Cantilan, Surigao del Sur, said.
Meanwhile, Jun Rey Samillano, a trainee from Agricultural Training Institute (ATI) Region 12, “I felt as if I was just chatting with ordinary people. You also learn faster since answers were obtained straight from the experts.”
Samillano is among the 25 young agricultural extensionists from various local governments, training and development officers from ATI and PhilRice, and faculty members from state universities in Visayas and Mindanao are attending the course that began on 16 June and will end on 23 October.
The training course is being pilot-tested by PhilRice, ATI, and IRRI for Project IPaD (Improving Technology Promotion and Delivery through Capability Enhancement of Next-gen Rice Extension Professionals and Other Intermediaries). The DA National Rice Program through the Bureau of Agricultural Research funds the project.