The scene in the rural areas of farmers using the carabao and wooden plow to till the soil may be somehow be a factor on why much of the youth do not want to take up farming as a vocation or business activity.
But what if the carabaos and other draft animals used in farming are replaced gradually by machines? Fortunately, this is becoming a reality, with the Aquino administration allocating billions of pesos to help mechanize farms in the Philippines.
The recent signing by President Benigno Aquino 3rd of the Farm Mechanization Law also shows that the government will continue to prioritize mechanizing farms in the next years to come.
In 2012, the Department of Agriculture (DA) allocated P6 billion for farm mechanization, and P2.45 billion for this year. Also, the DA has a program where it shoulders 85 percent of the purchase of farm machinery by a qualified farmer organization, which shoulders the remaining 15 percent of the cost.
Rex Bingabing, executive director of the Philippine Center for Postharvest Development and Mechanization (PhilMech), the agency under the DA tasked to develop and disperse farm mechanization technologies, said that mechanization can help attract more young people to farming, and more farmers are becoming interested in mechanization.
“Most young people are interested in new technologies and modern innovations. Most are also looking for work that are less labor intensive,” he said.
He said that by mechanizing farm work, drudgery could be greatly reduced, which would make farming more attractive to the youth.
“Many had preferred taking training in construction works like welding or metal fabrication. But if they will realize that [farm]mechanization would take away drudgery and increase their productivity, they [young people]would be encouraged to engage in farming operations,” Bingabing added.
Based on the field visits of PhilMech monitoring teams in various parts of the country, farmers who are below 40 years old are more open to adopting technology for agriculture.
“Those who are doing the traditional [more on manual]farming are all over 40. The younger ones are usually the operators of four-wheel tractors, combine harvester and transplanters. It seems that it’s harder to convince older people to adopt modern technologies. Young people are more open to innovations,” Bingabing said.
Based on the latest survey conducted by PhilMech, the mechanization level of Philippine farms is 1.23 horsepower per hectare (hp/ha). Rice and corn farms have the highest level of available farm power at 2.31 hp/ha.
While the 1.23 hp/ha is almost the same level of India and Pakistan, which both have less modernized farming sectors, the figure is way behind the level of Japan (7 hp/ha), South Korea (4.11 hp/ha); and China (4.10 hp/ha).
Nonetheless, Bingabing sees the farm mechanization level in the Philippines improving to 2 hp/ha at the end of President Aquino’s term to 2 hp/ha, with 3 hp/ha being “doable.”
The mechanization of farm operations can increase production by five percent and reduce postharvest losses to five percent to 10 percent, or even lower. Postharvest losses in Philippine farms is about 15 percent to 20 percent.
In the mid 1990s, an official government survey showed that the farm mechanization level in the Philippines was only 0.52 hp/ha.
Bingabing attributed the increase in the farm mechanization figures to the increase in the uptake of farm machinery by farmers and farmers’ groups during the past three years.
“Every time we go around the country for field inspections, the farmers are the ones asking how to avail of the machineries. In the coming years, there would be a lot of farmers acquiring machineries,” Bingabing said.
He added that farmers now realize that they can recover their investments in farm machinery since their production is enhanced, and postharvest losses are reduced.
“For example, a palay [unmilled rice]harvester costs from P1.5 million to P2 million.
According to those who invested in harvesters, they can recover their investment in two to four croppings,” Bingabing added.
A trend in asia
A study on farm mechanization trends in Asia that was completed in 2010 stated that agriculture mechanization is inevitable in the region, and the Philippines has no choice but to catch up to secure its food needs.
The study Agricultural Mechanization at a Glance Selected Country Studies in Asia on Agricultural Machinery Development written by Dr. Peeyush Soni of the Asian Institute of Technology in Thailand and Dr. Yinggang Ou South China Agricultural University in Guangzhou, showed that there is a great disparity in the mechanization level among Asian countries.
In the case of the Philippines, the study stated that “[Agricultural] mechanization level in the field crops sector is still in the developing stage.”
For the whole of Asia, the authors, quoting a 2010 Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific (ESCAP) Social and Economic Survey, said that mechanization can usher in a second “green revolution” in the region’s agriculture sector.
“Now, as the region aims for more balanced economic growth, it needs a second, more knowledge-intensive green revolution that combines advances in science and agricultural engineering with the region’s unique traditional knowledge to make agriculture more environmentally resilient,” it added.
The study showed that in countries where farm mechanization level is high, the “agricultural labor intensity” is conversely low. Agricultural labor intensity indicates the number of workers in a hectare of farmland.
South Korea, which has been self-sufficient in rice and exports various farm products, has an agricultural labor intensity figure of 1.11. While no figure for agricultural labor intensity was given for the Philippines, the figure for Bangladesh, which is also in the developing stages of farm mechanization, was 4.69.
While a reduction in the number of laborers can happen once farm mechanization level increases, the workers at the fields usually benefit from improved conditions.
“Agricultural mechanization plays an increasingly important role in agricultural production in the Asia-Pacific region. It reduces drudgery, increases the safety and comfort of the working environment; it enhances productivity, cropping intensity and production. It increases income for agricultural workers and then improves social equality and overall living standards,” the study said.