I have seen many billboards in Metro Manila and other urban centers portraying professionals in the country’s business process outsourcing (BPO) industry as young, intelligent, hardworking, upwardly mobile and well-paid. No wonder, many of the country’s youth aspire to be part of the country’s BPO industry.
Indeed, image does play a big part in attracting the youth to a certain profession.
So should we wonder that most of the youth shun farming because the typical image of a “magsasaka” is somebody who has to do back-breaking work but earns less, or worse, is still mired in poverty? And now that the average age of the country’s farmers is 57, there is an urgent need to attract more “young blood” to the country’s agriculture sector.
Given that almost 48.2 percent of the country’s unemployed belong to the 18-24 year old group, according to the Philippine Statistics Authority, that means there is no shortage of young people who can take the place of aging farmers. But what must be done? So here are steps to attract the youth to farming.
Make farming more profitable is the first step to attract younger people to the agriculture sector. Introduce viable ventures into the production of high value crops that has local following or have export potential in raw or processed form like coffee, cacao, mango, cassava, palm and rubber.
Anyway, what are the chances of the Philippines in exporting rice when production of that staple locally is higher than Thailand and Vietnam’s?
Organizing farmers into clusters or production blocks to help achieve economies of scale should also be considered. This would promote cohesiveness and allow farmers to adopt appropriate technologies to improve production, bargain as a group in dealing with traders, acquire farm machineries and equipment, apply for loans and work on a “shared” brand. Block farming also ensures the survival and growth of cooperatives as they can operate as small business units, owned by small farmers.
The first step treats agriculture as a business with expected gains and profitability.
The second step in preparing the youth to farming is to improve the current curriculum in agriculture, or to give more emphasis on food technologies (and not only crop) production, chemistry and biotechnology, applied research and development (R&D), economics, international trade and enterprise management. This means agricultural colleges or universities should invest in state-of-the-art laboratories to promote R&D on food processing and development of new varieties of climate-resistant crops, and offer business subjects to train future farmers on accounting and management, agribusiness and international trade.
The third step to attract the youth to farming is utilizing the Internet of Things (IoT) where informatics, data analytics and mobile computing technologies provide quick dispatch of information, strengthen social networks, access market updates and learn the latest on farm technology. And since the youth are very much into social media, the use of ICT to learn and share experiences in farming will definitely help younger people get into the agriculture sector.
The fourth step to attract the youth to farming is for government to invest more in rural and farm-related infrastructure like farm-to-market roads, irrigation systems, trading centers and road networks linking rural areas with urban centers. This is actually part of making farming more profitable.
The fifth step to attract the youth to farming is to facilitate access to land and credit. In this aspect,
government can take the lead by offering innovative financing schemes for land acquisition to young people who are really serious in taking up farming as a business undertaking. Banks should also be encouraged to offer credit to farmers, young or old, who have solid business plans for their farm operations.
The sixth step to attract the youth to farming is to start a program that will attract and then assist the youth into farming, like the recently-launched Young Entrepreneur-Farmers Philippines (YEF Phils) 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.”
As the adviser to YEF Phils, I have advocated that the group adopt a framework of inclusive market-oriented development (IMOD) with a value chain approach. IMOD, as I have discussed in my column on October 21 (in fact, my very first column for The Manila Times) builds on three powerful principles: that markets motivate growth; that innovation accelerates growth; and that inclusiveness ensures that the poor benefit.
The YEF Phils program will offer 10 subjects covering the following: values formation; basic courses on the production of crops; and entrepreneurship.
The most important component of YEF Phils is business incubation, where the participants are linked to credit and markets, and is provided management know how and technology support. The exit period from the program, or the point where the participants can operate by themselves, is three to five years.
YEF Phils, with Arsenio Barcelona as lead convenor, entices the youth to practice value-added agriculture by stimulating entrepreneurial activities in agriculture, through targeted agri-preneurship education. While agricultural productivity is important, training programs must emphasize the development of entrepreneurial qualities.
Agriculture today is not yet seen today as a young person’s game and the images of aging farmers are not helping at all. So the government must institutionalize support to this young farmers-entrepreneur program or similar initiatives.
I believe YEF Phils has the potential to build the image of the “New Filipino Farmer” who is young, smart, highly-motivated, innovative, earning well and more upwardly mobile than those who join the ranks of other professions that are now popular with the youth.
Maybe a few years from now, we can start seeing billboards of successful young farmers urging the youth to join them.