Kristine L. Alave
Philippine Daily Inquirer
September 8, 2011

MANILA, Philippines—The country’s food security is at risk as millions of farmers and fishermen are getting too old for what is back-breaking work and their children are not keen on taking over for lack of incentive to do so, agriculture and other officials said Thursday.

The officials said that the younger generation, who saw their parents grow old and poor in farming, do not see agriculture as a lucrative career.

According to data shown by officials at the Senate hearing on the Department of Agriculture’s 2012 budget, the average age of the country’s 11 million farmers and fishermen is 57.

Many of the farmers are small landholders, tilling an average of 2.5 hectares.

Senator Francis Pangilinan, chairman of the Senate committee on agriculture and food, said he recently met five farmers in Laguna, whose ages ranged between 60 and 78. “All of them are old. Their children do not want to go into farming,” he said at Thursday’s hearing.

There might come a time when the country will not have enough farmers and fishermen to grow and produce food, he warned.

“This is really a threat to our food security efforts,” the senator said. He added that the country’s rice supply will be one area that will be significantly affected by the loss of farmers.

The children and grandchildren of farmers and fishermen would rather go to the cities or migrate abroad than continue the farming tradition, Pangilinan said. For them, farming is not a way out of poverty.

“Their grandfathers were poor, their fathers were poor,” the senator said.

Data from the Department of Agriculture show that farming in the Philippines cannot support a family.

According to the Bureau of Agricultural Statistics, a farmer’s annual average income is about P20,000.

“This is less than P2,000 a month,” Pangilinan said, adding it was no wonder farming was not a very  attractive occupation for Filipinos.

In other countries, farmers are considered entrepreneurs and businessmen, Pangilinan noted. But in the Philippines, many farmers are still eking out subsistence farming that barely provides for their families even if their contribution to the Philippine economy is massive.

According to the DA, the agriculture and fishery sectors contribute nearly 20 percent to the country’s gross domestic product.

Acknowledging the problem, Agriculture Secretary Proceso Alcala said there was a need to raise the income of farmers to entice the younger generation and the overseas Filipino workers to go into agriculture. He noted that the DA seeks to raise by two to four percent the income of Filipino agriculture workers by 2016.

But even that increase is minimal, Pangilinan said. He said that the Philippine government should invest heavily in the agriculture sector to modernize it and improve yields.

Furthermore, farmers, fruit growers, and fishermen should learn new technologies. In his visit to Laguna, Pangilinan said the farmers said they planted only rice when they could plant other crops to increase their earnings.

In a previous interview, Pangilinan said agriculture workers should learn better technologies and study the science of farming. As farming involves so many variables such as weather and soil composition, a farmer should learn how to be exact in his technology and methods, he said.

Pangilinan urged the DA to step up marketing support for farmers.

At Thursday’s hearing, Alcala said the DA would be front-loading irrigation services and infrastructure projects such as trading centers and post-harvest facilities to provide direct support to farmers and fishermen.

Alcala said improved irrigation systems would enable farmers to plant rice two to three times a year. It was also imperative that the DA improved its post-harvest production as wastage in this process also contributes to the lowering of farmers’ income, he said.

Alcala said the DA planned to scatter trading centers nationwide to allow farmers to sell directly to the market. According to him, the current system in which farmers rely on middlemen puts farmers at a disadvantage.

“Middlemen kill our farmers. They are the only ones who get rich,” Alcala said.

For 2012, the DA has asked lawmakers to provide it with a budget of P61.73 billion. In 2011, the department’s budget was P38.58 billion.

Alcala said noted that the DA, along with the Department of Social Work and Development, would hire unemployed agricultural workers in between planting seasons under a cash-for-work program to provide them with additional income.

The workers would also help in the rehabilitation of irrigation systems and aquaculture facilities.

Alcala said the program was piloted in Northern Samar last week, where farmers were hired to build rice paddies. Under the program, the farmers will be paid according to the region’s minimum wage.

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