Bernardo M. Villegas
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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.

         Food security should be a concern of all of us, whatever our occupation.  That is why I would like to pay tribute to National Artist Ryan Cayabyab for calling our attention to the dire need to repopulate our farming sector with agribusiness technicians. He is lending his support to family farm schools located in Batangas, his own province, by organizing the “Musika para sa Kinabukasan,” a benefit concert that will raise funds for  two family farm schools, Balete and Dagatan.   Established in the early 1980s by some  business people concerned with improving the lot of poor farming households and with the encouragement of former President Corazon Aquino, these two family farm schools are dedicated to inspiring the youth to continue using their God-given talents in improving agricultural productivity, our greatest economic challenge then and today.  Going beyond farming skills, these schools provide holistic agripreneurship education.  Incorporated into the curriculum of the senior high school (Grades 11 and 12), following the TESDA track, are academic subjects and on-the-job experiences in advanced farming techniques and business principles to properly run a farm or a small agribusiness enterprise.  These two schools (one for girls and the other for boys) are under the auspices of the Pampamilyang Paaralang Agriculture Foundation, Inc. (PPAFI) which recognizes that the majority of farmers belong to the poorest segments of society.  The schools target the children of these poor farmers by enabling them to enroll in these two schools under a scholarship program.

         The business executives and other professional people who are supporting these family farm schools are actually trying to meet at least three of the so-called Sustainable Development Goals ( SDGs) which are food security, zero hunger and quality of education.  Over the last thirty years, the majority of the families of those who have been educated in these two-family farm schools belong to low-income families, with only a sprinkling of those who belong to middle-income households.  Most of these families obviously cannot afford the cost of P50,000 per student which has to be highly subsidized by donations.  The COVID-19 pandemic has led to increases in costs of operation as learning has to be conducted online.   The majority of the students find it hard to purchase the needed digital devices and access to internet services required to participate in online learning.  Part of the proceeds of the benefit concert will be used to upgrade the digital readiness of the students. There is also an urgent need to upgrade the physical facilities of the two schools.  In the last thirty years, the two schools have not had any major renovations,  Especially critical are the facilities for the senior high school program which has been added in the last few years after the implementation of the K to 12 curriculum. Given the digitalization of learning, there is a need for an e-library that will supplement the learning of the students. 

         The Family Farm School model is relatively a new form of technical education in the Philippines.  It was inspired by the French Maison Familiales Rurales (MFR) and the Spanish Escuelas Famliares Agrararias that were common in these two countries in the 1940s and 1950s before they entered the era of rapid industrialization and urbanization.  From Europe these schools spread to more than 40 countries in  5 continents.  Because of the relatively backward state of our agricultural sector, the next ten to twenty years will see the great relevance of these family farm schools in many agricultural regions of the country.  It was fitting that the first two schools would begin in Batangas, an agribusiness hub of Southern Tagalog which has the advantage of proximity to the biggest food market in the country which is the National Capital Region.  Batangas not only has a tradition of producing high-value food products like fruits, vegetables, livestock and poultry (the province will host the largest poultry project in Asia, a partnership between Cargill and Jollibee).   It is also a trading center for the surrounding islands like Mindoro and Masbate for fruits like calamansi and saba banana and livestock like cattle.  The Batangas port is considered next only to Manila as the gateway to the Visayas and Mindanao as well as to the world.  Dagatan and Balete will show the way for other TESDA-type schools to produce the necessary manpower skills in agribusiness that will be in great demand as we meet the SDG challenges of food security, zero hunger and quality of education. By encouraging the multiplication of family farm schools like Dagatan and Balete, we will be able to avoid the serious manpower shortage that is currently being faced by the entire construction industry (including the Build, Build, Build program of the Government). There are not enough really skilled carpenters, mechanics, plumbers, electricians, masons and other skilled workers needed by the construction industry.

           We can help attain these SDG goals of food security, zero hunger and quality education by purchasing tickets to the “Musika Para Sa Kinabukasan” digital concert of Ryan Cayabyab scheduled at 7 to 9 p.m. June 5, 2021. The official partner of the musical event is KTX.ph   To purchase tickets, go to the official link:  https://www.ktx.ph/events/28694/musika-para-sa-kinabukasan.    Empower a brighter and greener Philippines while enjoying the inimitable music of Ryan Cayabyab and the Ryan Cayabyab Singers (RCS).  For comments, my email address is bernardo.villegas@uap.asia.