By Stephen J Pedroza
How to make agriculture appealing to the youth?
This is the zenith of discussion during the International Year of Family Farming (IYFF) Forum at the Misamis University in Ozamiz City, Misamis Occidental dubbed as “#IYFF: A Green Push for Sustainable Land Use and Food Security.”
Reshaping the interest of the youth to farming remains a major challenge in this country, where the contribution of the youth serves as an imperative foundation to sustain our food demand-and-supply cycle and ensure responsible resource management in the future.
“There are several reasons why the youth have declining interest in agriculture—cultural, social and economical concerns,” said Erlinda Dolatre, senior adviser of Deutsche Gesellschaft für Internationale Zusammenarbeit GmbH (GIZ), a German organization pushing for a comprehensive ridge-to-reef development approach worldwide.
“Agriculture is viewed negatively; we have the societal attitudes like ‘planting rice is not fun’ and the tease ‘go home and plant camote’ when a student is not doing well at school.”
Among other reasons for the decrease of interest, as Dolatre enumerated are the lack of resources (land, capital, skills and technology), the youth perceived farming “not as a financially rewarding” occupation and the youth are not involved in making decisions for farming activities of their families.
However, these stereotypes need to be changed, she emphasized.
In this pursuit, agriculture students, faculty, public officials, non-government organizations (NGO) and smallholder farmers across Northern Mindanao converged during the celebration of the IYFF on November 25, forming part of the culmination of the global event.
The region-wide forum was spearheaded by the Xavier Science Foundation (XSF), Institute of Land Governance (ILG), Asian NGO Coalition for Agrarian and Rural Development (ANGOC), Council of Deans and Heads of Schools in Agriculture Education (CDHSAE), Federation of Agriculture Students in Mindanao (FASMIN) and the Department of Agrarian Reform (DAR).
More than 300 participants drew together to discuss the significance of family farming and small-scale agriculture in alleviating poverty, protecting the environment and achieving inclusive growth specifically in the rural areas.
“We encourage the government to empower family farming especially women and youth by creating polices conducive to equitable and sustainable rural development,” said Gumercindo Tumbali, national project team leader of the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) of the United Nations.
According to the Labor Force Survey (April 2012-April 2013), 624,000 Filipino agricultural workers are losing and quitting their jobs.
In addition, the farmers who are going to feed an additional two billion population worldwide in 2050 must be 13 years old by now.
Pushing the youth into farming
A Southeast Asian Regional Center for Graduate Study and Research in Agriculture (SEARCA) study shows that outdated curricula, outmoded research and academic facilities are among the top issues on agricultural human resources in Asia.
For instance, the enrolment in agriculture courses at the University of Philippines - Los Banos has declined over the past 30 years from 51% of the total student population in 1980 to only 4.7% in 2012.
However, there are a number of ways to attract the youth to bridge the gap in the agricultural sector, which remains one of the most vulnerable segments in the country.
“Modernized training and practical skills must be provided to the youth including access to information made easy through the Internet,” Dolatre said, adding that repackaging agriculture course curriculum must be attuned to the current challenges in the sector.
“Farming is a dignified profession,” Dolatre drummed. Image building is important for this generation especially with the incorporation of the ASEAN Economic Integration in 2015. “There is big money in agriculture; there’s a prospect of high economic returns.”
Support services are also crucial in this regard and it is where the government can help, said lawyer Anthony Parungao, undersecretary for legal affairs of DAR.
“Rural development will not be realized to its fullest extent if there is no agrarian reform—and agrarian reform can only be pushed to its maximum potential if we push for family farming,” Parungao said.
DAR frontlines the Agrarian Reform Community Connectivity and Economic Support Services (ARCCESS) Project, a delivery mechanism aimed at attaining “the overall goal of the rural poverty alleviation program for farmer-beneficiaries and it provides strategic support services in the form of technology inputs through selected professional services provider for technical agri-extension services, business development services and the provision of common service facilities (CSFs).”
ARCCESS is also geared toward enabling the agrarian reform beneficiaries (ARBs) to engage in small and medium-scale enterprises so they can maximize the productivity of their lands.
Projects like ARCCESS can also be an opportunity for the youth to be exposed to farming and agribusiness models.
“We know that the farming population in the Philippines is ageing. If no one wants to farm in the near future, where will we get our food?” asked Ana P Sibayan, a Mindoro-born young farmer champion of Pambansang Kilusan ng mga Samahang Magsasaka (PAKISAMA) - Asian Farmers Association (AFA).
Sibayan, 25, believes that greater involvement of the youth in agricultural trainings and ventures can heighten their social consciousness on the woes of Filipino farmers and on how to address these challenges.
“No farmer, no food”
Although Sibayan finished Bachelor of Science in Education major in Biological Science at the Mindoro State College of Agriculture and Technology (MSCAT), she has always been drawn to farming and she dreams of managing her own farm business one day.
She is also a proud graduate of the Integrated, Diversified, Organic Farming System (IDOFS) with Farm Planning Training, the core thrust of PAKISAMA’s Sustainable Agriculture Program.
“After the IDOFS training, I started vermicomposting, building a fishpond, making a vegetable garden and raising free range chicken in a 2,500sqm farm.”
Sibayan spoke before the crowd about her story where she is now training other young farmers in their place on IDOFS.
“If no one wants to farm in the near future, where will we get our food? No farmer, no food. So we have to make ways to attract the youth to agriculture.”
Both the public and private sectors are forging numerous collaborations in this regard. In the Philippines, young farmers like Sibayan have proposed the enactment of the Magna Carta for Young Farmers.
MCYF will have the following provisions, among others: (1) Promote and protect rights of young farmers aged 15-40; (2) Establish programs for young farmers such as agriculture-sensitive educational curriculum and broader scholarships for agri-related courses; and (3) Institutionalize young farmers’ representation in all agricultural policymaking bodies.
“The IYFF is an opportunity to tell the world to invest in smallholder agriculture, to invest in women in agriculture and to invest in the rural youth.”
As her parting words, she urged everyone to uphold the invaluable contribution of agriculture in our lives, and to contest and change those old misconceptions about farming.
“The youth can be attracted to agriculture if, first, they see meaning in this profession and, second, income opportunities as well as feel a sense of pride.”