It is a peculiar coincidence that, within one year, my contributions to the alliance of Woord en Daad and Red een Kind has taken me back to the two countries where I was based for long-term assignments: Bénin and the Philippines.

 

After travelling to Bénin to conduct a workshop in April, I was then invited to do one in the Philippines, where I lived and worked in the early nineties.  Apparently the centre I helped to get on its feet 20 years ago is still doing well. In this post, I reflect on why.

 

After the workshop with CCT, I visited the International Training Centre on Pig Husbandry (ITCPH) in Lipa City, where I had been Chief Technical Advisor from 1990 to 1993. The Dutch involvement was phased out after my time there, and it was very encouraging to see that 18 years on the centre is still functioning well.

 

There is a full schedule of courses, and most of the staff remain. The buildings need a lick of paint and the vehicles are the same ones we bought two decades ago, but there are new things going on, new plans to be implemented and the centre has a well-respected position in the swine industry, as well as within the government.

 

Two years ago the training centre was awarded as the most outstanding government agency in the country, with an official ceremony at the presidential palace in Manila. Quite an achievement. Who says that development projects are doing more harm than good?

 

The International Training Centre on Pig Husbandry began in 1985 as a Dutch sponsored project. The initiative came from Barneveld College in the Netherlands, where international courses were offered on pig husbandry and poultry production. In developing countries there is great need for hands-on training for subject matter specialists working with farmers. Instead of giving scholarships to participants from all over the world to come to Barneveld, it would be more productive to create centres in developing countries, where courses could be run cheaper and adapted to the needs of the region.

 

The first five years were a struggle. A training centre specialised in just one commodity did not fit into the Philippine structure, which made it very hard to gain a foothold. The first two Dutch experts before me pushed through and found a suitable area to build the training farm and facilities. When I arrived in 1990, the buildings were barely a year old.

 

A hard condition in allowing the second phase of the project was permanent positions for staff. The first partner organisation, a research institute, did not want to establish this. Staff trained in Barneveld during the first phase now had to choose: go back to their research work or give up their permanent position to join the second phase. Of around thirty trained staff, only five took the risk.

 

A solution was found to bring the centre under the umbrella of the Agricultural Training Institute, responsible for all training centres under the Department of Agriculture. At the time of my visit, it was still the only (single) commodity based training centre under government administration.

 

When I arrived in 1990, there were new, young staff with permanent positions, and a newly appointed centre chief, Mary Ann Sayoc. She was young and ambitious, one of the risk takers who stayed with the project. We got along very well and agreed that we should make the most of the different positions we each had in playing the game with external actors. We also concentrated on creating a positive work culture amongst staff.

 

This was not so easy, because underneath the surface image of easygoing, friendly people, adept at making one feel comfortable, Filipino culture has some deeply ingrained traits that are real obstacles to efficient organisation. But if you dig a little deeper into this culture, there is the acute sense of being one family, underneath it all. I discovered this after a year or two.

Philippines family

Once you have become a part of the ITCPH family, you will always be a part of it. So my visit in 2011 was a homecoming of sorts.

 

A critical issue during my time was the financial management of the training farm...

The bookkeeping rules for government services do not provide for running an enterprise; you apply for a yearly budget and, if you're lucky, receive about half of the requested amount when the national budget is approved in March or April. All profits go back to the state. Meanwhile, your animals have died because there was no money to feed them.

 

So we introduced a revolving fund, under the responsibility of the Dutch expats. At the end of the project, when all properties were to be turned over to the Philippine government, the issue was still unresolved. I gave Mary Ann full confidence over the account, which was under my personal name when I left. My personal assistant would remain for the day-to-day accounting.

 

One year later the Centre celebrated the opening of the new buildings that had been constructed in the second phase. I went back to participate in the ceremonies. Many officials had been invited, also the minister of agriculture who was a businessman. He could hardly believe he was being shown around a government agency. We said: “If you want it to keep it this way, you should allow for a foundation to manage the revolving fund”. By extraordinary exception he agreed, and the Centre got a foundation for 15 years. Just after my visit in November this came to an end, and now revolving funds are also allowed under Philippine law.

 

Another priority was building an external network that would sustain the centre after Dutch support was phased out. Mary Ann Sayoc, appeared to be an excellent networker. Wherever we went, we were welcome. Sometime after my stay, the centre acquired the honourable task of setting up a boar testing station.  The swine producers associations who commissioned it invested in new facilities at the centre. They are still in use today.

 

We also linked with the NGO sector, serving low-input farmers. Pig raising is often done by women in their backyard. We developed a range of technology options from commercial to small units, and even smaller units, just to show what was possible under different conditions.

 

A Mercedes is a nice car, but if you can’t afford a car, you would do well to upgrade your bicycle.

It was satisfying to see the smallholders units still in use, and even the native black pigs wallowing happily in the mud. It had taken a lot of persuasion to convince that the centre should engage in such activity. But it is the reality for many villagers.

 

Once production with these animals started however, the operation proved to be very feasible. Although the Philippine Native grows much slower than commercial breeds, the taste is better. During a good party ‘lechon’ should be served: a roasted piglet. The little native black piglets are the best, and command a high price. (We had excellent lechon during my welcome party at ITCPH, prepared by Tom, a retired staff member now in charge of catering.)

 

I also visited my former colleague Mary Ann and her family. We had a very nice dinner together. After 15 years at ITCPH she was appointed director of the entire ATI, but not for long. She is now the CEO of a regional branch of the East West Company, a Dutch enterprise in seeds for vegetables.

 

Mary Ann informed me that it still pays off to work with the Dutch. She showed pictures of the floods in Thailand, where East West has a big production plant. The entire environment was at least one meter under water, except for the facilities of East West. In true Dutch style, they had built a solid dyke which keeps the costly stock of seeds dry.