Many people are worried that pretty soon nobody will be producing the rice, vegetables, eggs, meat and fish that we eat because farmers are getting old and the young generation does not seem to be interested in farming at all.
Proof is the declining enrolment in agricultural courses. At a round table discussion on the future of Philippine agriculture that we attended at the UP in Diliman, Dr. William Dar who is a multi-awarded scientist who had held top positions in the government and in an international organization, is very much aware of the problem. The average age of Filipino farmers today is 57, he said. Really too old.
Young people shun farming because they perceive it to involve backbreaking toil and yet the income cannot compare with the income from employment in the urban areas.
So what can be done? The young people should be made aware that farming these days can be profitable and not necessarily back-breaking because of new science-based technologies that can make farming profitable, healthful and fun.
Making farming as an honest-to-goodness agribusiness is the way to go to attract the educated young people to venture into agricultural projects, according to Dr. Dar. This means making agriculture as an industry that is undertaken for profit.
And how can we make farming profitable? One strategy is to diversify into high-value crops and farm animals. The strategy is to employ science-based technologies that will result in reduced cost of producing high-quality farm produce. Profits can be realized with creative production and marketing strategies.
Farm mechanization is another strategy to cut production cost so that the farmer becomes more competitive and his farming profitable. Rice production cost can be substantially reduced through mechanization as per the study presented at the round table discussion by Rex Bingabing, the outgoing director of PhilMech. For instance, he said that the average cost of producing rice in the Philippines is about P11 per kilo of palay. If a mechanical
transplanter and a combine harvester are employed, the cost of a kilo of palay can be reduced to a little over P7. That’s just a peso above the cost of palay production in Vietnam. Not bad at all.
In Taiwan, the government, in collaboration with the private sector, has been successful in attracting college-educated young men and women to put up their agri-related enterprises (a.k.a. leisure farms) in the countryside. The leisure farms attract paying local visitors as well as foreign tourists. Among the attractions in the leisure farms are good food, enjoyable do-it-yourself educational and recreational activities, souvenir items and more. Today, there are about 300 leisure farms that are members of the Taiwan Leisure Farm Development Association.
In the Philippines, a farm tourism law was passed during the last Congress. If implemented right, this law could go a long way in attracting local young entrepreneurs to go to the countryside to put up their won agritourism projects that will create not only income for themselves but generate employment in rural communities.