WHEN an executive of the Department of Labor and Employment (Dole) came out publicly encouraging farmers to move to the industrial sector, my consternation went through the roof. The expert’s suggestion is disquieting because conditions in both sectors simply do not warrant it.
We are essentially an agricultural country, yet agriculture is the slowest growing sector of our economy. As it consistently underperforms and grows at glacier-like pace (it even contracted by 1.27 percent in the second quarter of this year), young farmers move to cities here and abroad in search of more rewarding industrial jobs.
How inane is it then to encourage farmers to move to the industrial sector when we have been losing farmers to the cities all this time? It doesn’t help that of those who stay behind in the farm, the men would rather work with tricycles and habal-habals for a living, the women in commercial establishments, than till a farm.
And what happened to those who shifted to industrial work in cities? Many of them ran smack into the grim reality of the industrial sector’s hefty share of unemployment, underemployment, job security and other issues that it can very well do without farmers compounding the problem. Some (farmers) find work abroad and they’re doing relatively well. But those who have to stay behind end up living in urban shantytowns eking out a living with mostly odd contractual jobs.
What we need are agricultural experts who see that the trend (of farmers leaving their farms for higher-paying jobs in the industrial sector) instead of being pushed should be reversed if the nation is to attain food, and farmers financial, security.
Reversing the trend could be as simple as embarking on an agricultural infrastructure program. Our farmers continue to need drying facilities, all-weather farm-to-market roads, production loans and above all irrigation and flood control. Our farmers also need both skill and machinery (we have to envy Thailand here) that enable them to add value to their products.
The 15-point priorities of new Agriculture Secretary Dr. William Dar are to the point and provide rays of hope to agriculture. But I do not see there something that I think is critical for agriculture’s faster growth, namely decentralized management.
Management of agriculture should be decentralized and local governments allowed to take initiatives in developing production and added-value programs that their peculiar set of threats and opportunities dictates.
This country needs to be jarred into removing the disgraceful irony that farmers who feed the nation are the poorest of the poor, that the most noble profession of farming is the most looked down on in the country.