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Attracting more young blood into agriculture

September 19, 2019

DR. WILLIAM DAR

Second of two parts

Among the countries in Southeast Asia, it can be said that Thailand is leading in initiatives to “technologize” its agriculture sector, which could help attract more young blood into farming.

An article from fareasternagriculture.com titled “Farm machinery uptake to increase, predicted Thai agricultural experts” posted in the website in June 2018 stated that one of the solutions supported by the country’s public and private sectors is to introduce mechanized farming to address labor shortages in the agriculture sector. The ultimate aim is to generate more stable income for farmers.

The move to introduce mechanization measures in Thailand’s agriculture comes at a time when the country is urging more of its youth to take up farming. And we all know that Thailand is the world’s leading exporter of rice and ships abroad many other types of farm-based products. According to the United Nations Trade Map, Thailand has 13 farm-based commodities earning at least $1 billion in export receipts annually, while the Philippines has only two, or coconut (majority in oil form) and bananas.

The article quoted Pisut Paiboonrath, an expert in smart farming from Thailand’s National Electronics and Computer Technology Center, saying that there is a new generation getting interested in farming as it modernizes. And I believe he is also referring to the youth, as Thailand has programs to attract more of its young people to the agriculture sector, among them the Dare to Return initiative. Dare to Return has also resulted in young professionals from the urban areas returning to the countryside to take up farming.

In the Philippines, the Rice Competitiveness Enhancement Program (RCEP) has the potential to level up the mechanization level of the rice industry and other major crops, as the mechanization component will get P5 billion annually in the next six years according to Republic Act (RA) 11203, or the “Rice Tariffication Law.”

RA 11203 allocates for RCEP P10 billion each year for the next six years to make the country’s rice industry competitive vis-à-vis its counterparts in Southeast Asia.

The menu for mechanizing rice farms under RCEP is impressive, as the Philippine Center for Postharvest Development and Mechanization has programmed at least 7,500 four-wheel tractors and about 1,200 combine harvesters for distribution in the next six years, among many other machineries.

The four-wheel tractors is actually the workhorse for almost all major crops, as its main task is to pull or move implements ranging from land preparation to harvesting, not only for rice but for other crops like corn, cassava and some types of vegetables. The mass cultivation of soybean in developed countries is done with the use of large farm tractors, which I would also like to see in the Philippines.

As for corn production, the four-wheel farm tractor could also be deployed through various implements for land preparation, sowing of seeds and harvesting.

What I am saying here is RCEP, although aimed at the rice industry, could serve as one of the main take-off points to technologize the country’s farming sector, which would be pivotal in attracting more young people into agriculture.

Also, I have heard of efforts of leading farm tractor manufacturers like Massey Ferguson developing precision farming technology, incorporating the use of tablets and smartphones in the operation of farm tractors. Kubota is also venturing into the application of global positioning system and information and communications technology into its products as part of its research to advance “smart agriculture.”

Obviously, the next phase for the agriculture’s technologization would be from the Industrial Revolution (4ID).

I have discussed extensively in the past the application of 4ID technologies in agriculture, and how it could level up farming and fisheries to make these more productive, profitable, sustainable and resilient.

The application of 4ID technologies in agriculture forms part of industrialization paradigm of the New Thinking for Agriculture.

Value-chain inclusion

Alongside technologizing agriculture to attract more young blood into agriculture are linking producers to the markets and value-adding.

Linking producers to the markets could be done in two ways: agribusiness enterprises directly marketing their produce; or linking or partnering them with large agri-industrial firms and conglomerates in the country.

Value-adding also requires technology and innovation, transforming raw produce into semi-processed or finished goods, of which the latter has higher export potential. On the other hand, the market for semi-processed farm produce, like dried cassava chips and coffee beans, are mostly for agri-industrial firms that produce various processed food products.

The support of state colleges and universities (SCUs) in the collective action to link agribusiness enterprises with the markets and to introduce more value-adding is critical. The reason for this is SCUs are also familiar with the socio-economic fabric in their localities, and are the potential source of competent manpower, particularly their students and graduates, to man and level up the agri-based enterprises in the rural areas.

SCUs could also explore their role in or take the lead agribusiness incubation (ABI), particularly in their localities. The International Crops Research Institute for the Semi-Arid Tropics, which I successfully led for 14 years, and India’s Department of Science and Technology have developed a successful ABI program that addressed the following issues in the formation of agri-based enterprises: Technology consulting; capacity building and training; access to funding; business facilitation; and infrastructure and facilities.

ABI is one of the measures to create an ecosystem for agripreneurship to develop in the Philippines, which in turn, could help more young people into agriculture.

Today, most of the farming and fishery activities in the country are undertaken by one-man or one-family farming units, most of which have not tapped into technology or expanded their markets beyond the usual middle man or “bagsakan” (wholesale drop-off points). And most farmers have remained on the production side of farming and excluded from a bigger part of the value chain.

So it is no wonder that most of the youth still see farming as having limited potential to provide a bright future for them.

With technology and agripreneurship, we could change the way the youth perceive farming.

Credit belongs to : www.manilatimes.net

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