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Industry stalwarts Tony Tan Caktiong, chairman and founder of Jollibee Foods Corporation (JFC), Edgar “Injap” Sia II, chairman and CEO of DoubleDragon Properties Corporation and CityMall Commercial Centers, Inc., and Eusebio H. Tanco, executive committee chairman of the STI Education Services Group, Inc. (STI ESG), broke ground on April 21, 2017 to officially mark construction of the first phase of the STI Academic Center and CityMall in Tanauan, Batangas.

The groundbreaking also marked the signing of a joint venture agreement among STI, and the families of Mr. Tan Caktiong, and “Injap” Sia II for the establishment of the agricultural school/commercial complex. Designed to accommodate 5,400 senior high school and college students next school year, the academic center will stand on a 35,114 square-meter property at Soledad Park Subdivision, Barangay Darasa, Tanauan, Batangas. Meanwhile, the CityMall will house affiliated brands such as Jollibee, Mang Inasal, Chowking, Red Ribbon, Highlands Coffee, SM Savemore, Watsons Pharmacy, Ace Hardware, SM Simply Shoes, BDO, ChinaBank Savings, and SM Appliance. The property is located in the main commercial area of Tanauan, Batangas.

Three months ago, STI and Tony Tan Caktiong signed a Memorandum of Understandingin an effort to boost agricultural education in the country through a farm-to-table school that will offer agricultural courses including managing quick-service and gourmet restaurants.

“My experience in JFC has given me unique perspectives on the challenges and importance of having a consistent and reliable supply of high-quality agricultural products. I am excited with this collaboration as it will help to uplift the agricultural and related sectors through education, another potential means for us to contribute to nation-building,” Tan Caktiong said.

Despite a predominantly agriculture-based economy, it is ironic that agriculture as a profession has lost its appeal to the youth due to perceptions of agriculture as a less prestigious and profitable profession. Studies show that the average age of a farmer is 57 years old, posing threat to food security, productivity, and sustainability.

This condition is more prevalent in rural areas where farming has been the primary source of income and where much of the population still lives in poverty. Based on the National Statistical Coordination Board’s report in 2009, poverty incidence is highest among fishermen and farmers at 41.4 percent and 36.7 percent while the poverty incidence was pegged at 26.5 percent.

Tanco recognized these challenges and said that it is crucial to devise an up-to-date curriculum and amplify the domain of agriculture in preparation for the ASEAN integration, where production and trade will be borderless. “It is imperative for both students and educators to cover the entire agribusiness commodity system and employ innovative approach and technology to be at par with the global standards in agricultural education,” he added.

Anchored on practical, entrepreneurial skills, and the latest technology in agriculture, STI intends to revive the young generation’s interest in agriculture through innovation, farm mechanization, and industry linkages.

The partnership will transform STI College – Tanauan as the initial vehicle for this collaboration with the intent to replicate to other STI campuses around the country when this initiative comes to fruition.

The school will offer courses in agro-entrepreneurship, agricultural technology, retail, logistics, and quick-service restaurants, among others, aside from programs in information & communications technology, business & management, hospitality services, tourism management, engineering, and arts & sciences.

The academic center will house state-of-the-art agriculture facilities and equipment. The green space will consist of a farm field, greenhouses, farmhouses for pastoral activities and backyard farming, as well as a rainwater harvesting system for irrigation and other uses. It will also be equipped with industry-grade simulation laboratories, air-conditioned classrooms with flat screen TVs, student activity centers with internet connection, a covered basketball court, and multimedia centers.

The successful operations of campus expansions for the past years led STI to scale up its educational network in the country. The company recently listed P5 billion worth of bonds to finance the expansion of its campuses and other general corporate requirements. The bonds were issued in tranches with the first tranche at P3 billion in seven-year and 10-year tenors.

STI ESG is also set to break ground in five new campuses in Lipa, Pasay-EDSA, Davao, Sta. Mesa, and San Jose del Monte in Bulacan which will all be operational by June 2018.

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