UPLB graduate wants to help farmers like his grandfather
MANILA, Philippines – "I am honored to be a farmer's grandson."
These words rang throughout the DL Umali Freedom Park as top University of the Philippines Los Baños (UPLB) Master of Science (MS) in Agricultural Engineering graduate Romel Arrobang delivered his graduation speech on Friday, June 21.
Arrobang took the podium to recount how his grandfather, a hardworking farmer, influenced his passion for agriculture and led him to where he is today.
"I grew up in a place where the shore meets the rice fields. Lolo Carlito went to the rice fields before the sunrise with my childhood friend, his carabao. After plowing the field all day long, he would greet me with a wide smile on his face and hug me with his muddy arms as if he was never tired. He is a hardworking man, and a jolly person as well," Arrobang narrated in his speech.
Inspired by his grandfather
At an early age, Arrobang witnessed the realities and struggles of a farmer when his 74-year-old grandfather took him to the rice fields when no one at home was around to look after him in Roxas City, Capiz. This made him learn a lot about carabaos and plowing the fields.
"I learned to value the food on my plate because of my grandfather. Bawat butil pinaghirapan ng Lolo ko (My lolo worked hard for every grain)," Arrobang stressed.
Inspired by the passion of his grandfather, he pursued agricultural engineering.
In 2011, Arrobang graduated cum laude with a BS Agricultural Engineering degree in UPLB and passed the board examination. He pursued his master's degree through the Department of Science and Technology - Engineering Research and Development for Technology scholarship in 2016.
"I became an agricultural engineer because of my grandfather. I saw his struggles growing up. Planting rice was never easy but my grandfather was passionate with what he was doing. I remembered him saying, 'Kung hindi ako magtatanim, paano kakain ang mga tao? (If I will not plant, how will the people eat?)'" Arrobang added.
In an interview with Rappler, Arrobang said that for him, being involved in agriculture means accepting his grandfather's legacy. Because of Lolo Carlito, farmers have a special place in his heart.
"Masisipag ang mga magsasakang Pilipino, walang duda doon. Kailangan lang talaga nila ng suporta (The Filipino farmers are hardworking, there's no doubt about that. They just really need our support),"Arrobang said.
Hopes for farmers
As he continued his venture into the field of agriculture, he learned about the struggles and challenges that farmers like his grandfather face. (READ: As crop prices drop, netizens call to support local farmers)
"I saw that my lolo and other Filipino farmers in general have been marginalized and are not well-appreciated. Because of that, I want to uplift them, break the stigma about farmers, and give them the respect they deserve," Arrobang said.
Arrobang previously worked in a private company in the livestock industry. He was also involved in various projects which gave him the opportunity to meet farmers, listen to their stories, and learn about their needs.
"Most of them take pride in what they are doing. Pero may mga iba na nagkukuwento kung gaano kahirap ang maging isang magsasaka dito. They wished to have some more support. Nagkukuwento din sila about their struggles kapag nasasalanta sila ng bagyo. Makikita mo sa kanila yung panghihinayang," Arrobang said.
(Most of them take pride in what they are doing. But there are other farmers who would tell stories about how hard it is to be a farmer in the Philippines. They wished to have some more support. They also told me stories about their struggles when faced with calamities. You can see their regret.)
Hearing the narratives of the Filipino farmers cultivated his eagerness to help them. He believes that farmers should be given support in terms of education and training to enhance their skills and maximize their productivity. (READ: E-Magsasaka lets you buy fruits and vegetables directly from local farmers)
"Introduce them to new technologies that could help them in farm operations. Maybe we need to look into the idea of credit financing in which farmers could borrow money with minimum interest. This should be enough safety blanket whenever unfortunate events happen to them," he added.
Arrobang hopes to be involved in one of UPLB's projects in agriculture. Through his profession, he aims to help the agricultural sector uplift the lives of farmers by giving them other options in cultivating their lands through agricultural mechanization and the use of new technologies.
He said he wants to encourage the younger generation to also be involved in agriculture just like how his grandfather inspired him.
Although Lolo Carlito is no longer attending the rice fields today, he still continues to herd cows.
"Lolo was my original inspiration, it grew more as I knew other farmers along the way. His struggles manually cultivating the field. Nakita ko iyong pagod niya pero he went home with a smile. Hanggang ngayon, uuwi si Lolo pagkatapos magpastol ng mga baka na may ngiti. It never changed." (I saw how tired he is but he went home with a smile. Until now, Lolo comes home from herding cows with a smile. It never changed.) – Rappler.com