Common good investing | Philstar.com

No, this is not about corporate social responsibility. CSR has been exploited in recent years to deodorize corporate behavior. Beyond press releases, conferences, and some Anvil awards, little sustainable good happened.

There are three big problems facing our country today: food production, education, and health services. Depending on the government alone is foolish. It is time for our economic elite to think of tailoring their investments to produce the maximum impact on the common good.

Merging the profit motive with the common good isn’t as difficult or impossible as it may seem. It is a matter of having the right attitude.

Last week, I wrote about how Manny Pangilinan decided to go into food production by building our country’s first modern greenhouse to grow a variety of food crops. In a conversation I had with MVP via Zoom last week, he said the Bulacan greenhouse project is just the first. He is looking at another one in Cavite, and he is being offered land all over the country to put up similar greenhouses there.

Metro Pacific has also invested in dairy through the purchase of Carmen’s Best Ice Cream and its dairy farm. We import over 90 percent of our dairy requirements and MVP wants to make a difference by increasing local dairy production.

On the other hand, Metro Pacific invested in Axelum because MVP thinks we have underinvested in the coconut industry and there is huge potential to earn forex and to provide income for coconut farmers at the grassroots.

MVP believes these investments in food production will be profitable. His other reason for these investments is to help the country assure enough food for all.

Indeed, if we want to see some significant progress in food production, the private sector must step in… BIG time.

We have to modernize agriculture. We have to go beyond the idyllic Amorsolo painting of the bahay kubo and the green rice fields with the carabao in the background. Modern agriculture has gone high tech and only the private conglomerates with experience in new technology, with trained manpower, and the capital can make a difference for us.

We have to start using new and creative ways of producing, harvesting, and distributing food. Technology is now an indispensable part of food production. It allows us to produce more food with fewer resources and less environmental impact. Artificial intelligence and machine learning are reducing the need for pesticides and other harmful chemicals.

Being productive in agriculture today requires using the latest advances in robotics, artificial intelligence, and biotechnology. For instance, vertical farming and hydroponics require less water and energy than traditional farming, and can be done in a much smaller space.

Precision agriculture uses sensors to monitor soil moisture, temperature and nutrient levels, allowing farmers to apply the right nutrients to their fields at the right time. This increases crop yields and reduces the amount of fertilizers and pesticides used.

On the other hand, robotic technology makes more efficient harvesting and increases crop yields and minimizes waste. We now lose 40 percent of our production.

Advances in genetic engineering have enabled scientists to create new varieties of food that are more resistant to pests and diseases, as well as varieties that are more nutritious.

Technology is now essential. Take the other big corporate investment in food production by San Miguel. They will build 28 world class climate-controlled broiler houses that can produce up to 80 million broilers a year and meet demand from the entire Mindanao region.

San Miguel has just broken ground on a P20-billion Davao broiler complex project, the first of a planned 15 mega poultry farms the company is building over the next 10 years.

Within the next five years, San Miguel is set to build similar mega facilities in Pangasinan, Bataan, and in Quezon province. They are looking to eventually produce 400 million birds a year. Right now, we are a huge importer of poultry products.

Corporate investments in food production will inject some vigor in our moribund agricultural sector. We cannot afford to keep farm productivity low, our farmers poor, and the sector controlled by trading cartels with no sense of the common good.

On education, I once asked Ramon del Rosario of Phinma how the universities and colleges they have taken over are doing. He said they are doing very well. So, I asked, profitable? Oh yes, he said. Profitable and they are happy about their decision to invest in the education sector.

Running good colleges and universities is another good example of how to invest in the common good, and the taipans who have invested in education are not missing out on profits: Lucio Tan in UE, the Sy-blings in NU and the Yuchengcos in Mapua.

But one doesn’t have to be big. Beyond educating the middle-class kids enrolled at OB Montessori’s Metro Manila campuses, they are investing to provide functional literacy skills to young children of a resettlement area in Bulacan, teach wives of sugar farmers in Negros skills in home technology and livelihood, and give Aeta children in Pampanga and Tarlac basic education.

Ayala has experiments in primary and secondary education, with excellent results but nothing of enough scale to make a difference. And it is at these basic levels where the private sector’s results orientation is needed most.

The other big problem is health services. Again, MVP saw opportunity in the problem. That’s why they now have a string of hospitals to provide more affordable healthcare for the middle class. They are also developing a pre-need health plan that utilizes the financial expertise of MVP’s group to work in healthcare.

But MVP said what we need are more health centers at the local level served by general medical practitioners. Right now, most medical graduates want to become Manila-based specialists. MVP thinks the country needs more GPs working in local communities.

And so, it goes. I am sure there are other examples of investing for the common good. Our business elite has the moral obligation to do a whole lot more to improve the lives of our people. Making lives better is always good for business. It powers our consumption-driven economy.



Boo Chanco’s email address is [email protected]. Follow him on Twitter @boochanco

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