Declining agri budgets won’t entice youth to go into farming

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TITA C. VALDERAMA

AGRICULTURE Secretary Emmanuel Piñol wants agriculture subjects to be taught to elementary and high school students. He said it is part of his department’s plans to encourage young people to go into agriculture.

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If Piñol would have his way, he also wants the agriculture sector’s budget for 2018 increased to P213 billion, up from this year’s P46 billion that Congress allocated.

Piñol is an agriculturist, and he is also a politician. He was a public relations man and a media person, too.

As an agriculturist, Piñol’s plans and dreams may be what the country needs to boost its agriculture sector. As a politician, he must be aware that he has to use some tricks to convince his fellow politicians in Congress that his ambitious plans would also be beneficial to their districts, and probably to their pockets as well.

As a public relations and media person, Piñol should know that he has to sell his bright ideas to the public, too, to gain support and the needed push for congressional and executive action.

The agriculture chief has taken initial steps to push his plan to include agricultural subjects in basic education. He said he has directed Fred Serrano, the agriculture undersecretary for policy and planning, to work on it with his counterpart in the Department of Education (DepEd).

Well, if foreign languages like Japanese, Chinese, Spanish and Korean are included as elective subjects in basic education, why not agriculture? The Philippines is still primarily an agricultural country despite plans to make it an industrialized economy.

Piñol said government has to develop Filipino children’s interest in agriculture.

Under the K to 12 curriculum, which was adopted in the Philippine educational system two years ago, the senior high school’s technical-vocational-livelihood track already has specializations in agri-fishery.

Piñol said fisheries and agriculture graduates all over the country could become very successful agri-entrepreneurs given the knowledge they gained from their courses.

“We can help them, we can actually provide them financing if they want to go into onion farming, garlic farming, and other agricultural activities,” he was quoted in a recent interview.

“Be agri-entrepreneurs. We will support you financially. You come to us, you organize yourselves, we will help you financially, and we will assist you in the marketing of your products,” he said.

However, as plans for the agriculture sector become bigger, the budget allocations get smaller. In 2014, the Department of Agriculture (DA) had a P80 billion budget. It went up to P85.63 billion in 2015.

Ironically though, when the national government budget breached the P3-trillion mark in 2016, the DA budget was slashed to P48.45 billion, and further reduced to P46 billion this year.

In the budget proposal for 2018, the House of Representatives is poised to raise the DA budget to P60 billion, which is still way below Piñol’s proposed P213 billion. Piñol said the bulk of the increase he was seeking would go to Easy Access Financing and construction of more farm-to-market roads.

According to the Philippine Statistics Authority (PSA), the agriculture sector employs 11.29 million Filipinos, or a substantial 29 percent of the country’s total labor force of 41.34 million as of 2015.

This shows the significant contribution of the agriculture sector in the growth of the economy. The agriculture sector needs a dramatic budget increase if the government wants to push its competitive edge in the international market.

Sadly, the Philippines has continued to record negative agricultural trade balances, with trade deficits with major trading partners Australia, the United States, Asean, and the European Union.

PSA data showed that earnings from agricultural exports decreased by 21.57 percent in 2015. Farmers’ earnings also decreased as prices for their produce were lower by 5.96 percent from 2014.

Without adequate budget and infrastructure support to agriculture, government would have difficulty enticing the young people to go explore the good prospects in farming.

I grew up in a farming village and my parents raised 11 children from a meager income from the farm. As the years went by, farming had become costly due to the high prices of inputs and lower volume of produce.

My brother, who was tending the farm after our parents died, has given up farming because of the increasing costs. None of our nephews and nieces are interested in going into farming if the return on investment is too little for the hard work under the sun.

When I travel to the provinces, I see vast tracts of land that are idle. Some have been converted into residential or industrial sites. That could be the reason for the declining figures in agricultural exports and steadily rising imports.

The Philippines is said to have been the No. 1 exporter of rice in the 1970s but we have since slid down to become the No. 1 importer from countries whose rice scientists and agriculturists have been trained at the International Rice Research Institute (IRRI) in Los Baños, Laguna, since the 1960s.

Its website describes IRRI as “the world’s premier research organization dedicated to reducing poverty and hunger through rice science; improving the health and welfare of rice farmers and consumers; and protecting the rice-growing environment for future generations.”

IRRI is an independent, nonprofit, research and educational institute, founded in 1960 by the Ford and Rockefeller foundations with support from the Philippine government.

We hardly hear about the IRRI nowadays. Perhaps, the government could again boost its support for the IRRI by sending more trainees to spur renewed interests in the agriculture sector.

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