• Agri sector needs the youth



    In my column published in The Manila Times on November 18 last year titled “Attracting the youth to farming,” I discussed how the typical image of a “magsasaka,” who has to do back-breaking work but earns less and may be mired in poverty, has made the youth shun farming as a profession, vocation or business undertaking.

    Now that the average age of the country’s farmers is 57, I believe the need to attract young people into the agriculture sector should be treated with utmost urgency.

    But with the current conditions in the country’s agriculture sector, we can never expect multitudes of young people to take up farming. Among the factors that prevent more young people from taking up farming is the difficulty in accessing credit, even if the Agri-Agra law stipulates that banks lend at least 10 percent of their loan portfolio to farmers.

    Also, while there are research and development (R&D) efforts for farming technologies including for agro-processing, I have yet to see much of these getting to end-users. There is also no solid technology business incubation (TBI) program or project for the agriculture sector.

    Farming in general in the Philippines is also not as financially rewarding as the highly-technical jobs in the urban areas, with the business process outsourcing industry attracting a huge number of very young people.

    Realizing that much needs to be done in attracting the youth into farming, a group of visionaries launched the
    Young Entrepreneur-Farmers Philippines (YEF Phils) late last year that envisions “A food secure, resilient, and prosperous Philippines propelled by empowered young farmers-entrepreneurs,” and whose mission is “To mentor and empower young farmers to become successful entrepreneurs in high-value agriculture.”

    YEF Phils is a private sector initiative working in partnership with GoNegosyo of Joey Concepcion, the Presidential Adviser for Entrepreneurship, and its lead convenor is Arsenio Barcelona, an agribusiness expert.

    I am an adviser of YEF Phils and I advocate the group to adopt the inclusive market-oriented development (IMOD) approach with a value chain approach. IMOD builds on the following powerful principles: resiliency; that markets motivate growth; that innovation accelerates growth; and that inclusiveness ensures the poor benefit.
    From IMOD’s principles, YEF Phils offers three steps for aspiring agripreneurs:

    Training covering 10 to 12 subjects that tackle farming and managing a business; Agribusiness incubation (ABI); Looking for lending facilities for business projects.

    Depending on their level of knowledge, graduates of agriculture courses can immediately take steps 2 or 3. The exit period from an ABI project or program under YEF Phils, or when the participants can operate by themselves, is three to five years.

    The graduates of agriculture courses should also be allowed to use their diplomas and feasibility studies to access credit for their intended business undertaking, and be enrolled under an ABI program that basically has three components: linkage to credit and markets; provision of management know-how; and support for technology and innovation.

    Although ABI programs should be initiated by government agencies, state colleges and universities (SCUs) can also become centers for agribusiness incubation because they have the technical people and expertise, and even R&D facilities.

    ABI programs must also have a component where the participants are linked to the markets, which is one important component of IMOD. Once a participant under an ABI program is linked to the markets, he or she will be encouraged to expand the operations of the agribusiness enterprise, and transform the enterprise into one that is merely generating sales to one that is increasing its capital base.

    Although the adoption of technologies under an ABI program should be primarily for value-adding, or for agro-processing, increasing on-farm production with scientific interventions is a good way to increase the income of young farmers. So that means an ABI program can also cover crop production using various technologies, including Information and Communications Technology (ICT) so farmers and agripreneurs can access the latest in farming technologies and market trends.

    The provision of safety nets for farmers like insurance coverage will also help attract the youth into farming. While crop insurance can be availed by farmers in the Philippines, there is a need for the government to make them aware of its existence and to even allocate more funds for that.

    A government-initiated program to have farmers covered by the Social Security System (SSS) and PhilHealth will also help young people consider farming as a vocation or business undertaking. I wonder why this has not yet been thought of or implemented yet; local governments can also take the initiative to have farmers in their areas covered by SSS and PhilHealth.

    I would also advocate the utilization of the Warrantage system in the Philippines so more farmers can improve their incomes, which in turn will attract more young people into the agriculture sector.

    I already discussed the Warrantage system in my column in The Manila Times on December 9 last year (‘Warrantage system and organized farmers’), and its merits can never be overlooked. The system was put into place by the International Crops Research Institute for the Semi-Arid Tropics (ICRISAT), that I was then heading, in Burkina Faso, Mali and Niger in West Africa.

    Under Warrantage, a farmer can store his harvest in a facility run by a cooperative or organization that gives him a partial payment based on prevailing market prices, or up to 35 percent. So it’s like a farmer getting a loan using his harvest as collateral.

    With cash on hand, a farmer need not sell his harvest during harvest time which is usually when traders offer very low farm-gate prices, at least in the Philippines. When prices improve, usually months or weeks after the harvest season, a farmer can sell his produce at higher prices and pay off the loan to the cooperative or organization operating the Warrantage system.

    One factor that led to the success of the Warrantage system in parts of Western Africa was the involvement of NGOs, local extension workers and, of course, ICRISAT experts.

    Although there is no stopping farmers from producing traditional crops like rice and corn, they should be encouraged to engage in high-value agriculture or the growing of crops that offer better earnings and can be processed into finished products that can be exported. Among these are cassava, coffee, cacao, and various fruits and vegetables.

    Attracting young people into the agriculture sector and agro-processing industry needs more than just saying the country’s farmers are growing old and that it is a “patriotic” duty of the youth to help secure the country’s food needs. Anyway, how can you expect the country’s soldiers to fight for their country if they are not given arms or logistical support?

    The solutions YEF Phils wants to put into place to attract more young people into farming are not even complicated and can be replicated by SCUs, NGOs, local government and even the national government in various parts of the country. The IMOD framework is also viable and can easily be understood by any capable bureaucrat and local official.

    In my next column, I will discuss why agro-industrialization is the most viable solution to reducing poverty in the country. Consider that the fourth part of the series discussing agripreneurship.


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