THE country has an aging agriculture sector with 57 years old as the average age of the Filipino farmer. As farmers and fishers get old, less and less young people join the sector. The complex and profound dilemma is who will replace our aging farmers and fishers? This is coupled with the urgent concern of what will happen to the country's food security if this dramatic decline is not arrested?
These issues were raised during the observance of the 2014 International Year of Family Farming. Presidential Assistant for Food Security and Agricultural Modernization and former senator Kiko Pangilinan called this trend an "unseen crisis" because it is a major threat to the food security of the nation. If the average productive life span is 65 years old, the country may reach a tipping point in around 10 years. In the next decade, the Philippines may experience a critical shortage of farmers.
The problem stems from the reluctance of young people to be farmers. They no longer seem attracted to agriculture because of the predominant perception that there is "no money in agri". This perception is reinforced by the narrative of their farmer-parents who live in poverty. There is also the stigma of looking at farming as a lowly job. That it is for those who did not finish school and people with limited options. There is also a wave of migration of young people from rural communities to city centers leaving behind the old to tend to the farms.
For 2015, one of the two main thrusts of the National Youth Commission is to encourage the greater participation of young people in the agriculture and fisheries sector. All programs of the agency will be geared towards this direction. The decision is based on the motivation that comprehensive and aggressive interventions must be put in place very soon to prevent a food security crisis. But how do you convince young people to be in agriculture?
In making agriculture attractive to the youth, perception is the all-important first battle. Government, civil society, the academe and concerned sectors of society must work together to change the narrative of farmers. As long as farmers live in constant poverty, the sector will not be an attractive first career choice for the young. There is no shortcut to this. The only way is through rural development by means of asset reforms, social protection and institutionalized assistance mechanisms. This will also be the engine that would generate viable opportunities in the sector. The opportunities will encourage the young to consider a career in agriculture.
The country is on the verge of an agricultural crisis because of an aging farming population putting at dire risk the food security of the nation. But if we succeed in arresting the situation and draw in more of our youth to take up agriculture, the possibilities are unlimited. The inherent power of the young as a creative, bold and innovative generation will create a new dynamic for the agriculture and fisheries sector making the important goal of food security and sustainability attainable.