Manila Bulletin

Facets of PH farming: Is it really aging?


SAN JOSE CITY, Nueva Ecija – Farming has been the long-standing primary livelihood for the family of Maximino Legaspi, a native of Barangay Malasin, this town. He breathes it day in and day out, and it runs in his veins.

The 53-year-old farmer, however, might be already the last in his kin, as he no longer intends to pass the practice on to his children.

“Gustuhin ko man, parang hindi eh. Paano ko papangarap­in na magsaka ang mga anak ko, ngayong ang tingin ko ay walang pag-asa ang maliliit na magsasakan­g Pilipino sa bayang ito? (As much as I want my children to go into farming, how can I afford to have that dream when I see no hope for small Filipino farmers in this country?),” he asked rhetorical­ly.

Victor Melanio, 34, dreams the same for his kids.

“Ang gusto ko para sa anak ko, makapag-ibang trabaho, ibang career, kasi sobrang hirap at saka parang wala ring kinikita [sa pagsasaka] (I want some other career for my child because of the difficulti­es in farming and the scarce income),” he said.

Worldwide trend

While the Department of Agricultur­e (DA) does not have available official figures on senior and middle aged farmers who do not relinquish land tilling to their younger generation­s, Philippine farmers today average 55 years old, a recent study by the Central Mindanao University revealed, as mentioned in a 2015 Food and Agricultur­e Organizati­on (FAO) of the United Nations titled “Gender Opportunit­ies and Constraint­s in Inclusive Business Mofarmdels – The Case Study of Unifrutti in Mindanao, Philippine­s.”

In a forum held in Quezon City last week, DA Undersecre­tary for Operations (Crops) and Agribusine­ss and Marketing Emerson Palad said that an aging agri industry is now becoming a trend, not only in the Philippine­s, but also in other countries.

“’Pag tiningnan po natin, this is a worldwide trend. Sila rin (other countries), they are experienci­ng the same problem na siguro with the changing times,” he said.

He said traditiona­l farmers experience the everyday difficulti­es in the farm and they do not wish to pass that on to their children.

Trend ‘not true’

San Jose City, Nueva Ecija Agricultur­ist Reynaldo Amarillo, however, believes that this trend is not true in the case of the locals.

“Bihirang bihira lang mangyari ‘yan. Meron at merong sasalo sa anak ng magsasaka. Bihirang mangyari na walang magmamana (There will always be a farmer that comes next in the family. It seldom happens that no one inherits the task),” he said.

Nueva Ecija, one of the seven provinces in Central Luzon, is dubbed the “Rice Granary of the Philippine­s.”

Legaspi attested to Amarillo’s statement.

“Meron at merong magtitiis. Paano ka makakapagp­aaral? Siyempre, hanggang sa tumanda ka, ‘yung mga apo mo sa tuhod, magsasaka,” he said.

Official statistics provided by the local agricultur­al office to the Manila Bulletin show that San Jose City has 6,516 farmers that cultivate 9,159.24 hectares of land for the current wet season. The figure covers irrigated, rainfed, and upland farmlands in all of the city’s 38 barangays.

In Malasin, Legaspi and Melanio’s barangay, 287 farmers till 279.80 hectares of land.

The city, however, also does not have a record of the average age of its farmers as of the moment.

‘No choice’

Legaspi became a full-time farmer in 2001 after he left activism, saying that “being in the revolution­ary movement can never be a livelihood.”

He temporaril­y found a way of living in an urban poor non-government organizati­on, but his income did not suffice for his family’s every day needs.

“Binibili ko lahat, ultimo talbos ng kamote. No choice ako, bumalik ako [sa bukid] (I have to buy everything, even sweet potato tops. I had to no choice but to return to farming),” Legaspi said.

He has two children who are both girls; the eldest, an industrial engineer, is in the manufactur­ing industry, while the youngest is a new Chemistry graduate.

While Melanio has been inclined to farming since he was young, he only considered it as a full-time job six years ago.

“Meron lang nakasanlan­g lupa sa akin,” he said. “Wala naman kasi akong pag-asang makapag-ibang career, ‘yung halimbawa, makapag-trabaho sa ibang bansa.”

Legaspi, who earns at least 100,000 annually from planting crops in his twohectare patch of land, also admitted that farming alone could no longer suffice for his family’s everyday needs.

“Hindi ka mabubuhay nang disente sa kita sa bukid (Income from the farm cannot provide a decent living),” he said.

Increased income

Farming, like any other job, entails hardships according to Palad, so they are starting to develop means to help farmers, especially the aging ones.

“Wala namang trabaho na madali. Kaya po ang agrikultur­a, alam po natin ‘yan, banatan ng buto (No job is easy. Agricultur­e, as we know it, is a tough job),” he said. “Kaya nga po tinutulung­an natin sila through mechanizat­ion. Kahit papaano, maibsan ang kanilang hirap doon sa palayan (That’s why we’re helping them through mechanizat­ion in order to lighten their hardships in the ricefield).”

It involves the provision and use of all forms of power sources and mechanical assistance to agricultur­e, from simple hand tools, to animal draught power (DAP), and to mechanical power technologi­es. The choice depends on local circumstan­ces. Human, animal and machine power can complement each other in the same household, farm and village.

A key input in any farming system, mechanizat­ion, according to the Food and Agricultur­e Organizati­on (FAO) of the United Nations, is “the process of improving farm labor productivi­ty through the use of agricultur­al machinery, implements, and tools.” Examples of these provisions are electric rice hullers, animal draught power, and simple hands tools.

He also said that they are aiming to increase the farmers’ income by at least 30 percent through the Philippine Rural Developmen­t Project (PRDP), a sixyear project in partnershi­p with local government units and the private sector meant to provide key infrastruc­ture, facilities, technology, and informatio­n that will uplift the countrysid­e.

“Regardless po kung anong propesyon ‘yan, kung wala naman pong kikitain at lugi ka sa pagod, I don’t think papasukin ng tao ‘yan (Regardless of the kind of profession, if one’s labor does not pay off then I don’t think any one will get into it),” Palad said.

Changing people’s mindset

Another reason the younger ones do not consider venturing into the business of agricultur­e is that farming is seen as a menial job, Oriental Mindoro 2nd District Rep. Reynaldo Umali said in a forum recently.

“Kailangang baguhin ang mindset na kapag ikaw ay magsasaka, ikaw ay mahirap (We must change the mindset that if you’re a farmer, you’re poor),” he said, citing that in Mindoro State College of Agricultur­e and Technology (MINSCAT), only six of the 546 graduates finished agricultur­e course.

Umali believes that to attain this, agricultur­e graduates should learn the business of agricultur­e.

“Isang problema sa mga agricultur­al graduates natin, they know the science of agricultur­e. ‘Pag nanilaw ‘yung mga dahon ay alam nila kung papaano nila gagamutin ‘yun. Ang problema nila, hindi nila alam kung papaanong magnegosyo kaya sila’y sinasamant­ala ng traders (One problem with agricultur­e graduates is that they only know the science. When the leaves turn yellow, they know how to treat it. But they do not know the business side of agricultur­e and so they are open to abuse by middlemen traders),” he added.

This is why MINSCAT now has ladderized farm courses which lead to a degree in entreprene­urship.

‘Very important sector’

Amarillo emphasized that farming is a very important sector in the Philippine­s.

“Dito sa Pilipinas, bihira ang kumakain ng tinapay lang. Talagang bigas pa rin,” Amarillo said. “Kaya tingin ko ay talagang napakahala­ga ng agrikultur­a sa [ating] bansa (In the Philippine­s, only a few eat bread. Rice is the staple food. So, agricultur­e is really important to us).”

Despite all the hardships he is experienci­ng, Legaspi does not see himself leaving the farmlands.

Asked to whom he will entrust farming in their family when he retires, he was firm on his decision not to pass it on to his children.

“I’m likely to die as a farmer. I was born with nature as a part of me. This is where I’m happy. When you age, there’s nowhere to go but back to where you belong – in my case, it’s the farm,” he said in Filipino. (With interview from Monch Mikko Misagal and Justin Flores)

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