WITH the signing into law of the Agriculture and Fisheries Mechanization Act (AfMech) or Republic Act 10601 in June this year, the Philippines can expect farmers to become more interested in mechanizing their operations, which is expected to increase farm productivity in the next few years.
However, as more Filipinos mechanize their farms, it is expected that some agricultural workers will lose their jobs as machines will perform tasks that were once performed by humans. In fact, the proliferation of rice milling machines has made it unnecessary to hire workers who used to do the milling of palay (unmilled rice) manually. However, the upside is milling recovery from palay using machines is now 60 percent to 65 percent, compared to about 50 percent using the manual method.
In a recent press conference, Rex Bingabing, the executive director of the Philippine Center for Postharvest Development and Mechanization (PhilMech), said that while the mechanization of farms in the Philippines will lead to some displacement of farm workers, the good news is AfMech lays the groundwork for the development of a local farm machinery industry which can generate employment.
“Through that [AfMech], we will be creating another industry, and there will be a need to address the training needs of the human resources of that industry which will be needing machinists, among others,” he said.
Section 15 under Article IV of AfMech states that “Production of locally made engines and other machinery for agricultural and fisheries purposes shall be promoted and encouraged by the DA [Department of Agriculture] in partnership with the private sector, and through joint venture agreements.”
That provision of the law also states that “the DOST [Department of Science and Technology] shall undertake the feasibility study and R&D [research and development]for the local assembly and manufacture of agricultural engines/prime mover, and other agricultural machinery and equipment.”
Bingabing said that the primary objective of the law is to also put into place a Five-year National Agri-fishery Mechanization Program that shall be coordinated by the DA.
The five-year program will also encourage the local manufacturing of farm machineries, which in turn will create jobs and help create industries also in the rural areas.
Bingabing said that even if there will be some displacement of agriculture workers from the increased mechanization of farms in the Philippines, those who continue to plant crops will experience less drudgery in their work.
The PhilMech director even said that while mechanization might result in the displacement of some farm workers, there are some areas in the country where there is a lack of farm workers because the country’s farmers are aging. Also, not a lot of youth want to take up farming as a vocation or business undertaking.
Based on a study conducted by the Central Mindanao University, the average age of the Filipino farmer today is 55 years old.
“In many areas, we are already experiencing the effects of this scenario. In places in Central Luzon, farm owners are already having difficulty in finding farm workers during the time of planting and harvest,” Bingabing said.
The Philippine Rice Research Institute (PhilRice), also an agency under the DA like PhilMech, believes that the mechanization of rice farms will result in the creation of more jobs.
“Most farmers are hesitant to accept rice mechanization because they think this will displace them from work. But displaced workers in the farm can become farm machine operators, fabricators or technicians,” said Eden Gagelonia, PhilRice engineer and head of the agency’s Rice Engineering and Mechanization Division.
She said the scenario where more jobs will be created from rice mechanization cannot be seen yet, because most farm machineries in the country are still imported.
Gagelonia said that once the adoption of farm machineries increases, companies that will manufacture agricultural equipment will increase in number and be ready to provide employment to people in the rural areas.
The PhilRice engineer added that although the country is experiencing a relatively high population growth, available labor for farming has been decreasing over the years. From 12.03 million persons employed in the agriculture in the agriculture sector in 2008, this went down to 11.96 million persons in 2010, based on 2010 data from the Bureau of Agricultural Statistics.
A major factor contributing to the decline in farm laborers is the younger generation, specifically those in the rural areas, shun farming as a profession because of the drudgery of farm work.
“With mechanization, drudgery in the farm will be eased out and this will encourage younger generations to work in the farm. Also, employment opportunities shall be created for machinery manufacturing, repair and maintenance and agro-processing,” Gagelonia said.
Bingabing said that the local farm machine industry must also aspire to manufacture small engines, or those that have an output of 10 horsepower and below. While there are farm machineries that are assembled in the Philippines, pieces like engines and transmissions are usually imported.
“We can first assemble small engines and eventually aspire to fabricate the pieces that make up a small engine. Then we can also manufacture spare parts of farm machineries that are used locally,” he added.
AfMech tasks PhilMech to take the lead in overall research, development and extension (RDE) in farm and fisheries mechanization in the country. The implementing rules and regulations (IRR) of RA 10601 will be finished before the end of the year.