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Transforming lives and communities

Dr How (second from right) inspecting produce with participants at the 'Top Outstanding Farmers of the Philippines' programme.

Dr Milagros How giving a speech at the ‘The Outstanding Farmers of the Philippines’; an initiative by Universal Harvester, to recognise and reward farmers in the Philippines.

WHEN Universal Harvester, Inc (UHI) was established in 2003, its founder, Milagros How set up what was to become a business conglomerate that adheres to strict quality standards for both its products and management systems.

The UHI vision, however, went beyond that of a highly successful business operation. Dr How made sure that UHI would become a leading manufacturer and distributor of fertilisers and other agricultural products with a unique business philosophy.

She created an enterprise in which corporate social responsibility is at the core of its operations and from which the company draws its meaning and influence.

Dr How explains the principle: "To us, using corporate resources to transform lives and communities is more than just a corporate social responsibility - it is our responsibility," she points out.

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UHI allocates a budget based on how much is required for the company to fulfil its commitments to the beneficiaries of its CSR programmes. The budget varies from year to year and does not have a set cap.

Over the years, the company's CSR programmes have been focused on education, training, technical assistance, and farmer-business opportunity-matching initiatives. These programmes have already benefited some eight million Filipino farmers.

"It is also part of our social responsibility to make sure that the farmers are exposed to the latest trends in agriculture technology," Dr How says.

This is the reason behind UHI's study tours and exchange programmes, where farmers are brought to various parts of the Philippines and Asia to observe best farming practices.

"The exercise of corporate social responsibility also mandates that we continue to expand the awareness and involvement of people and organisations in the pursuit of our social mission," Dr How points out.

This is the rationale behind UHI's partnership with the Junior Chamber International-Philippines in the awards system called "The Outstanding Farmers of the Philippines" (TOFARM) which underscores that agriculture sustains life and the farmer is a hero who deserves recognition for his role in sustaining life.

Thus far, there are 156 TOFARM awardees pooled to serve as the knowledge platform for other farmers.

There are other TOFARM-related projects undertaken as part of the advocacy efforts to bring back interest in farming. These include:

  • the TOFARM Songwriting Competition (which has produced an album of 10 songs about agriculture);
  • the TOFARM Film Festival (which has produced 12 agriculture-themed full-length films); and
  • the TOFARM Villages (which assisted 5,760 farmers in 37 calamity-stricken municipalities in Leyte).

Recently, Dr How embarked on a CSR involvement meant to preserve the Banaue Rice Terraces - centuries-old rice paddies carved out from the mountain by the indigenous peoples of the Philippine Cordillera region.

Dr How believes that this historic landmark is more than just a tourist attraction. "It is a monument to the ingenuity of the first Filipino farmers, and a showcase of sustainable, environmental-friendly farming system," she explains.

The "Banaue Rice Terraces Restoration Project" hopes to generate awareness and support for the rehabilitation of the eroded portions of the terraces.

UHI has also sponsored the study tours of farmers and local leaders of Banaue to various rice terraces declared as United Nations Heritage sites, particularly in China, Japan, and Indonesia.

These are intended to further equip and empower them to lead in the preservation efforts of the renowned rice terraces.

Being employee-led, every task performed in UHI is as much a part of business operations as they are exercises in corporate social responsibility.

"Corporate social responsibility is the fusion and harmony of UHI's business goals and social mission," Dr How concludes.