Page last updated at 08:37 UTC, Saturday, 14 December 2019 PH
In the next twenty years, as we experience explosive growth in middle-income households, the industries that will grow the fastest will require workers that belong to, not only the agricultural revolution phase, but to Industry 1.0, 2.0 and 3.0. Those who will be in great demand by Industry 4.0 will still be in the minority. What are the sunrise industries of the next twenty years? They are first of all the famous four F’s of a predominantly consumption-based economy: Food, Fashion, Furnishings and Fun (Entertainment and Tourism). We will need many farmers and farm workers to produce the high-value crops like vegetables, fruits, and livestock that will experience explosive demand in a predominantly middle-income economy. We may have fewer rice, corn, coconut and sugar farmers or farm workers, as we turn to more intensive farming of high-value agricultural products. We will, however, have to devote many more of our manpower to the upper level of the food value chain such as post-harvest, storage, warehousing, transport and logistics, and food manufacturing by both SMEs and large enterprises. Thus, we will need more chemical engineers and food technologists.
We cannot talk about food unless we worry about who among our youth will remain in the farm sector. Already, the average age of a Filipino farmer is close to 60 years. Unless we dramatically improve the working conditions in the rural areas, we will see a continuous migration of the young to the urban areas in search of jobs in industry and services. As much as possible, we have to retain the small family farm, a problem that was addressed in countries like France and Spain for a reasonable amount of time through what was called the Family Farm School system which has been replicated by some Philippine NGOs in the provinces of Batangas, Laguna, Mindoro, Negros Oriental and Iloilo. We can attract the young to remain in the small farms of their parents if they are given the necessary skills and cultural education required by modern farming. This can be done by putting up these family farm schools in the midst of farming communities. Each family farm school uses the dual or alternating system under which the students are kept for a period (say one week) in the classroom to receive both technical and cultural training and then sent to the farms of their respective parents to practice what they learned in school under the supervision of their mentors. This alternating approach (one week in school and two weeks at the farm) will be sustained for the duration of the secondary education that the students are receiving (at least four years). After such an approach, most of the graduates will be so familiar with how to make their respective farms productive so that the possibility of retaining them to work on their family farms will be maximized, although a certain amount of attrition should be expected. Following the European practices such as those in the Netherlands, Germany and Spain, the young farmers can be encouraged to form cooperatives so that they can attain economies of scale in purchasing their inputs, using farm machinery, storing and marketing their farm products. I hope that TESDA will adopt this approach in the technical schools of the public sector in the same way that a law was passed during the Presidency of Fidel Ramos mandating the public technical schools to adopt the dualvoc method learned from the Germans.
Another way of retaining as many of our youth in the farming sector is to promote what has been called the “corporative” (combination of the corporate and cooperative systems) that Land Bank and other agribusiness organizations are promoting. This consists in a corporation teaming up with small farmers in growing such crops as coconut, rubber, palm oil, cacao, coffee and other high-value crops, following the nucleus estate model perfected by the Malaysians in the palm oil industry. Through this method, a sufficient number of young people can be employed by the agribusiness corporation that acts as the anchor or nucleus. Some successful models are those of Cardinal Agricultural Products in Palawan and Axelum in Misamis Oriental. This approach has been tried and tested already by the banana and pineapple plantations for decades in Mindanao.
A third solution to the problem of retaining the youth in the farm sector is for well-to-do entrepreneurs to venture into high-value small-scale farming in provinces like Laguna, Cavite, Batangas and Quezon that are very close to the rich food markets of Metro Manila. These farm entrepreneurs can use the technology of companies like Harbest and East West Seeds to grow very marketable fruits and vegetables such as papaya, honey dew melon, cabbage, egg plant, pepper, lettuce and others that can be sold in the wet markets and supermarkets of the National Capital Region that comprises as many as 15 million consumers. Already the Go Negosyo movement led by Joey Concepcion in partnership with the Department of Trade and Industry has been nurturing through a system of mentoring thousands of farm entrepreneurs who can absorb part of the youth in the rural areas as they get employed in these more modern small farms.
As regards Fashion, we may no longer have the competitive advantage in garments manufacturing but our people excel in the design and creative part of the clothing industry. We have to encourage many more entrepreneurs and fashion designers to follow the lead of the likes of Penshoppe and Bench in utilizing the creative talents of Filipinos in this sector. These two have already gone regional and can be global in the future. Fashion designing is only one of the creative arts in which Filipinos excel. They are also well known in the worlds of music, animation, dancing, acting and creative writing. There are hundreds of young Filipinas waiting to be discovered as the next Lea Salonga. There will always be opportunities for Filipino youth to be gainfully employed in these creative fields, whether in the Philippines or abroad. Analogous creative talents can be employed in the wide field of furnishings. As the real estate boom results in the building of millions of housing units, both vertical and horizontal, for the expanding middle class, there will be a large demand for furniture and household decorative items which can be manufactured domestically. (To be continued)