Filipino rice farmers are among the oldest in Asia and they are aging fast, according to a study conducted by two leading agencies.
The study titled “Benchmarking Philippine Rice Economy Relative to Major Rice-Producing Countries in Asia” and presented on July 2 was undertaken by the Philippine Rice Research Institute (PhilRice) and International Rice Research Institute (IRRI) last year and covered two cropping seasons.
Another study conducted by the Philippine Center for Post-harvest Development and Mechanization (PhilMech) and the University of the Philippines Los Baños-Agricultural Mechanization Development Program (UPLB-AMDP) showed that most of the country’s farmers are above 40 years old.
The study conducted by PhilRice and IRRI covering major rice-producing areas in six Asian countries said the average age of rice farmers in Nueva Ecija is 58. The province is one of the country’s major rice-producing areas and farmers there get adequate support for irrigation and inputs.
On the other hand, the average age of rice farmers is 55 in Suphan Buri in Thailand, 54 in Zhejiang in China, 50 in Tamil Nadu state in India, and 49 in East Java in Indonesia and Can Tho in Vietnam.
“Most rice farmers were within [the]40 to 59 age bracket although a high percentage of farmers aged 60 and above was noted in Camarines Sur and Iloilo,” the study of PhilMech and the UPLB-AMDP said.
The study, which covered 13 provinces where rice is grown, said there are many old farmers who no longer do actual farm work.
“It is important to note that some of the older farmers interviewed were no longer actively working at their farms doing the physical activities. Those farmers just oversee their farms and hire laborers or tenants to do the farm activities,” it added.
Labor shortage looms
The PhilMech and UPLB-AMDP warned that there would be a shortage of farm labor in the future if the agriculture sector does not get new young farmers.
“The age distribution of rice farmers illustrates that in 10 or 15 years’ time, imminent crisis on labor is inevitable, as most of the active farmers will grow old and no longer fit to work in the farms while the succeeding generations of farmers are diminishing,” the study said.
PhilMech is pushing agriculture mechanization to address the issue of aging farmers in the Philippines.
“A one-year increase in the age of farmers increases the likelihood of purchasing agricultural machinery by 1.014 times. This is even more essential for farmers who are already old, who can no longer perform tedious operations,” the UPLB-AMDP study noted.
Farmers with higher educational attainment are also more likely to adopt farm mechanization compared to those who have lower attainment in education.
According to the study, 38 percent of farmers had college education or graduated from college.
“There were high percentage of rice farmers who achieved college level education in areas such as Iloilo, Camarines Sur and South Cotabato,” it said.