Agriculture used to be thought of as a heritage vocation, work that’s passed on to the next generation along with the inheritance of land and property. For the unlanded, farming is an obligation to take on big responsibilities and hard labor with minimum benefits and low returns.
While it is not an exaggeration to say that all of human life and civilization rests upon the shoulders of farmers, it is a dismal to note that the predominant notion is that work in agriculture cannot bring families out of poverty. It is such an incongruity that farming is associated with intergenerational poverty when without farmers, there will be no food on the table at all.
Will there come a time when there will be no more farmers? A 2018 study showed that the average age of Filipino farmers was 57 years old and the majority of the youth was no longer interested in agriculture. The number of farmworkers has been declining over the past years, around 1.5 percent annually since 2007, and the number of those employed in agriculture declined from 11.84 million in 2015 to 9.8 million in 2020.
As lockdowns made people reexamine what’s essential, the pandemic’s silver lining was that people started thinking about alternatives to working and earning a living. There’s a lot of dialogue about how digital technology has changed the way we work but there should be more stories about how lessons from the pandemic changed the way we think and dream about how to live.
There were almost 2,000 such stories last year and there will be thousands more as the Department of Agriculture (DA) holds the Young Farmers Challenge (YFC) 2022, a competitive financial grant assistance program that seeks to encourage and support the youth in staying or returning to agriculture. The program is designed to engage them in food production, processing of agricultural products and other farm-based enterprises, and to provide them the opportunity to own, lease, develop and cultivate the land for agricultural purposes.
YFC encourages sustainable engagement among young farmers to showcase agri-fishery’s viability as a primary source of income comparable to employment in industry service sectors. Through the program, young farmers will have access to capital to enable them to venture into profitable enterprises and access to mentorship in business development services to further strengthen their agri-entrepreneurship capabilities and ensure their business’ longevity and sustainability.
“Layunin ng Young Farmers Challenge program na maibalik ang interes ng ating kabataan sa agrikultura at patuloy na makilahok sa mga aktibidad na may kinalaman sa pagsasaka at pangingisda. Sa pamamagitan ng programang ito ay matutulungan natin ang ating mga kabataan masimulan ang kanilang mga agribusiness ventures sa production, value-adding, agricultural innovation at marami pang iba (The aim of the YFC program is to revive the interest of the youth in agriculture and their continued involvement in activities related to farming and fishing. Through this program, we can help the youth start agribusiness ventures involving production, value-adding, agricultural innovation and many more),” Agriculture Secretary William Dar has said in summing up the program’s vision.
During its inaugural launch in 2021, a total of 1,276 youth beneficiaries at the provincial level received start-up capital in the form of a financial grant. From thousands of participants, 48 young farmers were chosen as regional level awardees.
Janice Paglinawan from Zamboanga del Sur is the 27-year-old owner of Agribata and the YFC 2021 Top 1 National Awardee. Her award-winning product is Agribata Cereal Powder for kids. Given experience in the family business of manufacturing agri-food products, she decided to create Agribata and address two problems: the oversupply of and perishability of raw materials that are highly available in her hometown. Agribata Cereal Powder is made from organically-grown rice of different varieties. Other ingredients are mung beans, pumpkin, sweet potato, turmeric, ginger, soursop, moringa and lemongrass. By building partnerships and working closely with farmers, she was able to solve early stage challenges such as the means to extend the shelf-life of raw materials by developing a specific roasting and drying process.
She developed a product that is responsive to customer demands for a healthy, gluten-free, dairy-free and vegan product for kids that is proudly 100-percent Philippine-made. More notably, she is solving problems across multiple key areas as part of a commitment to social enterprise as 10 percent of the net proceeds of her business will be used to help address malnutrition and educational challenges in her hometown of Dumingag and the Zamboanga Peninsula at large.
Paglinawan wants more young farmers to take advantage of the opportunity, saying: “I highly encourage our youth to join this program. It’s life-changing. You can provide employment and you can provide solutions to the problems in your community. We, the youth, have a lot of ideas but we need people to believe in us.” She adds, “Usually, a program in agriculture involves agri-fishery graduates but I was interested in the YFC program because it doesn’t matter what educational background you have — you can provide new innovative solutions.”
Last year’s YFC participants came from diverse educational backgrounds like engineering, nursing, political science and philosophy. The program is truly inclusive as it is open to the youth from all levels of educational attainment (and even to those without a formal education), gender, economic status, employed or unemployed, especially to those from marginalized or vulnerable sectors.
After Covid-19, young Filipinos know that the future of work is not all about working in big buildings and a career in the trendiest industries. It must also be about the environment, sustainability, social impact, and the vision and innovative spirit to address multiple social problems where they intersect. It is all about solving society’s most challenging problems and for the Philippines, none is more important than contributing to the country’s food security.
More information on YFC 2022 can be found at http://agribusiness.da.gov.ph/young-farmers-challenge-program-2022/.
Kay Calpo Lugtu is the chief operating officer of Hungry Workhorse, a digital and culture transformation firm. Her advocacies include food innovation, nation-building and sustainability. The author may be reached at email@example.com.