Attracting More Young Blood Into Agriculture

(First of two parts)

I must state that we should never waste time in attracting more of the youth to the agriculture sector, as the average age of our farmers is from 57 to 60 and most of them may retire in the next few years.

And I believe that a big portion of our fisherfolk may also be in that age range.

With aging farmers and fisherfolk, we cannot by any means attain and ensure the country’s food security, especially over the long-term. And if we take into account the worsening effects of climate change on the agriculture sector, we really have a lot to worry about.

There are a lot of factors as to why the country’s ranks of agricultural producers have aged. For one, most of the country’s farmers and fisherfolk are mired in poverty, giving an impression to their sons and daughters that farming and fishing does not offer a good earnings and a bright future.

The lack of technology adoption by agricultural smallholders is also to blame for the lack of interest among the youth in farming, and this means farmers must engage in back-breaking manual labor in the field. That reminds me of the Filipino folklore song where one verse says “Magtanim ay di biro, Maghapong nakayuko. ‘Di man lang makaupo, ‘Di man lang makatayo (Working in the fields is no joke, the whole day you need to toil, you could not even sit or stand).”

Image Credit: SunStar Davao
Image Credit: SunStar Davao

As a result, the children of poor smallholder farmers would rather aspire for careers in emerging industries like business process outsourcing and the vehicle industry, which also offer the chance to work abroad given the increasing demand for skilled aftersales professionals in various parts of the globe.

But there is still good news when it comes to the youth gaining interest in taking up farming, fishing and agribusiness as their vocation. One of them is the Philippine Society of Agricultural and Biosystems Engineers (Psabe) getting increased membership in its chapters in a number of state colleges and universities. During the Psabe convention in April in Bacolod City, I was given the privilege of delivering a presentation on how the Fourth Industrial Revolution (4ID) and its potential impact on technologizing agriculture, and attracting the youth, demonstrating Psabe’s ranks including its young members have a keen interest in “technologizing agriculture.”

And I must state that technologizing the agriculture sector is one good way to attract young blood into agriculture, as today’s youth are interested or even obsessed over technology.

Technologizing agriculture is just one of the many ways to create a nurturing environment to attract the youth into agriculture.

There are also ongoing initiatives from the Department of Agriculture (DA) to get more young blood into farming, like the Agricultural Training Institute (ATI) offering scholarship assistance to children of smallholder farmers and fisherfolk. The DA-ATI also offers a two-year scholarship program to 4-H Club members, and a training program for male out-of-school youth to experience a two-year hands-on training in Japan in partnership with the Japan Agricultural Exchange Council (JAEC) and Japan Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries (Japan-MAFF).

Also, the DA’s Agriculture Competitiveness Enhancement Fund (ACEF) provides qualified students P73,000 under its Grant-in-Aid in Higher Education Program.

Then there’s the Go Negosyo of Presidential Adviser for Entrepreneurship Joey Concepcion III that I strongly support, which provides training for entrepreneurs, including those from the ranks of the youth.

The DA is also planning to establish a management trainee program at my office, or the Office of the Secretary, in partnership with the private sector to develop the future ranks of young agripreneurs and experts. I want to attract the young graduates of major state colleges and universities, and other major universities in the country to join the DA management team.

Mataas na kita

Perhaps the most important goal that we all must pursue to attract more young blood into the country’s agriculture sector is to make farming and fishery profitable and not just highly productive in terms of yields and harvest. In short, we should generate results to show that agriculture could provide mataas na kita (good earnings) alongside masaganing ani (bountiful harvest).

And if we could make farming and fisheries look “sexy” by applying machines, drones and digital technologies, the country’s agriculture sector could achieve a modernized and industrialized state in three to five years, generating more interest from the youth.

When it comes to mechanization, data from the Philippine Rice Research Institute (PhilRice) showed the adoption level of farm machines in the Philippines remains low compared to Thailand and Vietnam, which are major rice exporters. Data gathered by PhilRice showed that 100 percent of rice farmers in Thailand and Vietnam use combine harvesters, while it is only 3 percent for the Philippines. Furthermore, the use of four-wheel tractors in Thailand and Vietnam was 55 percent and 76 percent, respectively. For the Philippines, it was negligible.

If there is any consolation, 98 percent of rice farmers in the Philippines use two-wheel tractors, while it was 44 percent in Thailand and 24 percent in Vietnam. (See table below)

The low adoption rate of machines in rice farming in the Philippines is one of the reasons why we must make the Rice Competitiveness Enhancement Program (RCEP) succeed.

RCEP would be funded by the Rice Competitiveness Enhancement Fund as stipulated by Republic Act 11203. RCEP would be getting P10 billion annually in the next six years of which P5 billion will be for farm mechanization that would be spearheaded by the Philippine Center for Postharvest Development and Mechanization, P3 billion for propagating high-yielding rice varieties spearheaded by PhilRice, P1 billion for training rice farmers to be led by ATI and TESDA, and P1 billion for credit support with LandBank of the Philippines and the Development Bank of the Philippines taking the lead.

I strongly believe that RCEP’s success will help attract more of the youth into rice farming and even agriculture as a whole.

In the next installment of this column-series, I will continue the discussion on RCEP and other measures/program to get more of the youth into agriculture.

Written by Dr. William Dar in The Manila Times. Dr. Dar is the Secretary of the Department of Agriculture in the Philippines. Read original article here