LOS BAÑOS, LAGUNA, PHILIPPINES. Agriculture will continue to play a key role in driving overall development in Southeast Asia (SEA) and developing the competencies of agricultural workers is essential towards raising its productivity was the common thread that ran through the various messages in the opening program of the Regional Workshop on Competency Certification for Agriculture Workers in Southeast Asia (SEA) held at SEARCA Headquarters on 9-10 May 2018.
Dr. Gil C. Saguiguit, Jr., SEARCA Director, asserted that agriculture is key to addressing food and nutrition security and poverty alleviation. Towards these ends, and in light of the ASEAN economic integration, he highlighted the need to jumpstart the recognition of competency certification systems for agricultural workers and promote their skills recognition in the region. This was the impetus for the workshop, which is part of the SEARCA-initiated project Towards Development of Competency Standards for Agricultural Workers in SEA, which has the approval and support of the High Officials of the Southeast Asia – Technical Vocational Education and Training (SEA-TVET).
In his opening remarks, Secretary Gene A. Mamondiong, Philippines' Technical Education and Skills Development Authority (TESDA) Director General, stated that the significance of an agriculture sector with standardized qualifications and competencies must not be undervalued. It is crucial for workers to equip themselves with the necessary skills and knowledge to meet industry demands. He reported that as the authority in Philippine TVET, TESDA has developed the National Technical Education and Skills Development Plan for 2017-2022, the blueprint for the country's TVET sector, which has identified agriculture as one of its priority areas. He added that TESDA has adopted the farm school approach, which organizes farmers to share best practices and transfer technology and skills with the community.
Mr. Prasert Tepanart, SEAMEO Secretariat Deputy Director for Administration and Communication, representing SEAMEO Secretariat Director Dr. Gatot Hari Priowirjanto, warned that if agriculture fails to meet the rising demand for food products, countries' economic growth will be adversely affected. He mentioned a report from the International Labour Organization (ILO,) which said that there is a mismatch between skills and industry job requirement in SEA countries. He stressed the importance of accrediting skills and evaluating competencies of workers to improve their employability and foster continuous training. He urged the participants to start to think out of the box for producing a highly skilled workforce.
In her keynote message, Senator Cynthia A. Villar affirmed that she shared the intent and goals to develop the competencies of agricultural workers to raise their standard of living, income levels, and help them beat poverty. She stated that farmers and fisherfolk remain among the poorest in the country. She reported that she led the enactment of RA 10848, which extends the period of implementation of the Agriculture Competitiveness Enhancement Fund (ACEF), which can help provide a level playing field for farmers, and RA 10816 or the Farm Tourism Development Law, which emphasizes training and education. She added that the Villar SIPAG Program provides free training workshops and seminars. She agreed that with the ongoing ASEAN economic integration, there is a need for workers to have equitable access to high-quality learning and skills recognition that make them competitive in the labor market.
These messages were echoed in the context-setting session of the workshop. Mr. Bernie Justimbaste, SEARCA Consultant and Technical Coordinator of the Workshop, added that TVET institutions will play a critical role in expanding the competency certification systems to recognize the non-formal and informal learning of agricultural workers, both waged workers and smallholders, and will have better chances of success if done in close collaboration with interested groups in the private sector. Ms. Akiko Sakamoto, Skills and Employability Specialist of ILO, highlighted the importance of Recognition of Prior Learning (RPL). She cited a RPL study in the agriculture sector in India, which showed increased incomes, increased awareness of occupational safety and health (OSH) issues, increased social recognition and status, and increased interest in future education/training. Ms. Irene M. Isaac, Philippine Representative to the ASEAN Qualifications Reference Frameworks (AQRF) Committee and former TESDA Secretary, discussed the purpose and principles of the AQRF. She briefly explained the AQRF level descriptors and cited quality assurance as essential in qualifications framework. She also discussed the Referencing Process, including its 11-point criteria, pre-conditions for referencing, the referencing report, peer evaluation, and endorsement.
Competent bodies (organizations responsible for all or some aspect/s of the competency certification system) from three countries then shared their respective competency certification schemes. Ir. Surono, MPhil, Member of the Board of Badan Nasional Sertifikasi Profesi (BNSP) of Indonesia gave his presentation via skype. Ms. Nellie A. Llovido, Chief of the Competency Assessment Division, Certification Office of TESDA presented on behalf of the Philippines. Ms. Jullada Meejul, Director of the Bureau of Professional Qualification System Management, Thailand Professional Qualifications Institute (TPQI) gave the presentation for Thailand.
This was followed by a Panel Discussion on Experiences, Issues, and Lessons in Promoting Competency Certification for Agricultural Workers. The panelists were from both government and private sector, namely, Dr. Hj Mohd Zamri Bin Hj Sabli, Center Director, SEAMEO Regional Centre for Vocational and Technical Education (SEAMEO VOCTECH), Brunei Darussalam; Engr. Ariodear C. Rico, Chairman, ASEAN Agricultural and Biosystems Engineering Coordinating Committee; Engr. Renato B. Dela Cruz, Chief of Partnerships and Accreditation Division, Department of Agriculture-Agricultural Training Institute (DA-ATI), Philippines; Dr. Roberto R. Acosta, Resource Mobilization Manager, East West Seed; and Ms. Gigi Pontejos-Morris, Farm School Director, MoCA Family Farm RLearning Center, Philippines. They agreed that one must not lose sight of the ultimate goals of improving the lives of smallholders and improving agricultural productivity. It will also be worthwhile to present agriculture as a business enterprise to engage the younger generation in the sector.
A facilitated plenary discussion arrived at a draft statement with the recommendations to SEA-TVET High Officials Meeting (HOM) towards accelerating the process of skills recognition for agricultural workers in SEA. This set of recommendations will be presented to the 4th SEA-TVET HOM scheduled to be hosted by TESDA in the Philippines in September 2018.
The workshop had a total of 60 participants from Brunei Darussalam, Indonesia, Lao PDR, Malaysia, Thailand, Timor-Leste, Vietnam, and the Philippines, coming from ministries of education, ministries of labor, competent bodies, the academe, national agricultural and technological schools and training centers, farm schools, and the private sector.
The event was a partnership between SEARCA and TESDA, with support from the Food Security Center of the University of Hohenheim, Germany.