Increasing Supply of Agribusiness Technicians
The news about agriculture during the first quarter of 2021 reminds us that the road to improving agricultural productivity in the Philippines will be long and difficult. Agricultural production dropped by 3.3 percent , especially due to the large decline in production of livestock and poultry, with hog production shrinking by a whopping 23.2 percent. The saving grace was the increase in crop production of 3.3 percent. This development is in contrast with what happened last year when agricultural production increased in both the second and third quarters as the other sectors of the economy, industry and services, were experiencing double-digit decreases. It was too early to celebrate a turnaround in our long-term experience of agriculture being the weakest link in our economy. The whole nation must remain focused on this biggest challenge to our sustainable and inclusive growth which is our low agricultural productivity, the result of a persistent inability of our government to invest in farm-to-market roads, irrigation systems, post-harvest faculties and all other resources needed by the farming sector to be productive. The good news is that the Build, Build, Build program of the present Administration is giving the highest priority to infrastructures in the countryside. The biggest portion of the budget of the Department of Public Works and Highways is being spent outside of the urban centers. We, however, have to make sure we don’t forget the human resources that are needed to attain high agricultural productivity. If we don’t watch out, farmers are a dying breed. The median age of a Filipino farmer is inching up towards 60 years. Tragically, because of what they have seen in the sad experiences of the government neglecting the welfare of their parents, the children of farmers show very little interest in agriculture. Something has to be done to retain as many young people as possible in the agribusiness sector which consists not only in farming but also post-harvest, supply chain and logistics (e.g. cold storage), and food processing, among others. As I have written before, we need to establish training centers to form agribusiness technicians among the Filipino youth, especially among the children of farmers, but not limited to them. We should be able to convince some children of middle-income families that farming and the related agribusiness activities can be both financially rewarding and dignified. The “plantitos” and “plantitas” who mushroomed in urban centers during the pandemic should be able to inspire some of their children to get into high-value farming. Urban farming can make a significant contribution to food security.