Bernardo M. Villegas
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How To Train Agribusiness Technicians (Part 1)

          The ongoing national emergency brought about the COVID-19 virus pandemic has highlighted the importance of  food security through the production of high-value agricultural products such as vegetables, fruits and livestock in areas as close as possible to  urban concentrations like the National Capital Region.  There is a need to attract more young people, from both low-income and middle-income households, to some form of urban gardening or another.  We may have to introduce a new occupation called the agribusiness technician who can be a product of a technical or vocational school that can offer a curriculum in the senior high school of the K to 12 program.  This could be a solution to the alarming exodus of the children of farmers away from the rural areas to seek jobs in the urban centers.  It is well known that the average age of a Filipino farmer today is close to 60 years.  Something has to be done to convince a good number of our young people that farming can  be both profitable and  glamorous.

    There are many commendable initiatives to help small farmers augment their meagre incomes by diversifying into high-value crops like vegetables, crops and livestock.  There is the Kapatid-Agri Mentors program under the Go Negoyso movement led by Joey Concepcion and highly promoted by the Department of Trade and Industry (DTI). Through this program, successful entrepreneurs from the middle-income and high-income classes volunteer to mentor their counterparts among small farmers in the productive cultivation of all types of marketable products in urban areas like the National Capital Region and in other municipalities around the country.  These initiatives are supported by commercial enterprises  or nongovernment organizations like the SM Foundation,  the Villar group of companies, Harbest Seeds, East West Seed, Farm Ready-GG Seedling Corporation,  HarvestPlus, etc. as a means of poverty alleviation and to help promote small and medium-scale enterprises.

         For example, a recent issue of Usapang Gulayan, the Official Newsletter of East West Seed Company, Inc. came out with a very encouraging report on how farmers can earn substantial income from the growing of eggplants.  Eggplant is considered one of the top vegetable crops in terms of volume production (around 186,000 metric tons) from January to June 2019.  Ilocos Region  remains as the top producer of eggplant, covering more than 60 % of the total eggplant production in the country.  Every year, eggplant is grown in an average of 21,225 hectares of land, making it an important source of income for many Filipino farmers.  A certain variety called the Mucho F1 of East West Seed is a high-yielding, cluster-type eggplant.  Its fruit is Dark Purple in color and can grow from 23 to 25 centimetres long.  It is an early maturing variety that can be harvested 55 to 66 days after transplanting and is still marketable 5 to 7 days after harvest.  It has a very green calyx that makes it always look fresh.  Like other eggplant varieties, Mucho F1 can be grown in lowlands such as in the provinces of CALABARZON surrounding the National Capital Region that has an estimated consumer market of 15 million mostly middle-income individuals.  Based on East-West Seed’s research, for every one-hectare area planted with eggplant and provided with proper management, a farmer can earn a net income of up to 724,130 pesos, depending on the price of the produce during harvest.

         What is true for eggplants can be applied to a host of other vegetables which are increasingly in demand in metropolitan areas like Metro Manila, especially because among middle-income households, there is a shift in the diet from carbohydrates like rice and corn toward vegetables and fruits.  Similar calculations on small plots of land have been made by other seed companies on such other vegetables as ampalaya (bitter gourd), upo (bottle gourd), papaya, tomato, hot pepper, calabash okoy, calabash pancit, lettuce and cabbage.  Calculations I have seen from other seed companies arrive at net incomes of P800,000 to P1 million for every hectare of land in the urban areas.  There is no question, that as long as the necessary investments in facilities and inputs are made, urban gardening of vegetables and fruits can be quite profitable.  But there is a rub.  Despite all the good intentions of the Kapatid -Agri Mentors, the fact remains that really poor small farmers  have neither the savings nor the credit worthiness to be able to afford the rather expensive equipment and inputs that are required in high-value urban gardening. To succeed in these ventures, a minimum of investment in high-technology approaches will be required.  That is why over the long term only well-to-do professionals who venture into urban gardening will be be able to persevere in this relatively risky venture.  What come to my mind are names like Flor Tarriela, Andre Kahn, Ruth Pangan Novales, Jannelle Tiruja, Jackquelline Haessig, Mat Maderazo, Cherrie Atilano and others whom I regularly find in my Viber group with the Kapatid  Agri-Mentors.  These are relatively affluent  professionals who can make the necessary investments in capital and inputs to succeed in high-tech urban gardening.

         Urban gardening will be especially widespread in provinces like Cavite, Laguna and Batangas where small plots of land can be devoted to vegetable, fruit and livestock farming to serve the large consumer markets of the Metro Manila region.  In fact, some real estate developers are actually incorporating farm lots into their housing subdivisions to cater to households  in which one or more members of the family may want to indulge in urban gardening.  These are the agribusiness ventures that will need skilled agribusiness technicians to  manage their respective urban gardens.  These technicians can be trained in TESTA-type  senior high schools that will concentrate on agribusiness technology and practices.  To address the looming shortage of young people who opt to remain in the farming sector, we should encourage—through both the Department of Education and TESDA—the establishment of technical schools at the senior high school level that will offer programs on agribusiness technology.  These programs can possibly counteract the massive outflow of young people away from the agricultural sector.  The title “agribusiness technician”  sounds more glamorous than “farmer” to the youth of today.  To be continued.