Philippine agriculture

[OPINION] How do we get women and the youth interested in agriculture?

Bea Emma Bachinela
[OPINION] How do we get women and the youth interested in agriculture?
'There are plenty of misconceptions about jobs in agriculture'

The coronavirus pandemic has hit many industries, but the demand for food is still constant. We cannot survive without food — “No Agri, No Food, No Life,” as we say in agriculture. There is therefore a need for the agricultural sector to be strengthened during this difficult period. While there are frontliners, the farmers and the people in the agriculture industry are the “backliners” — the backbone of our economy. Improving agriculture is one of the ways to alleviate poverty and empower our countrymen; the Philippines, after all, is an agricultural country. 

Attracting young people to agriculture

Sustainability is important in all industries, including agriculture. The average age of the Filipino farmer is 57. Young people are needed to follow their footsteps. Although the government has scholarship programs for agricultural courses, only a few enroll. Some after college will not pursue agriculture-related jobs as well.

There are plenty of misconceptions about jobs in agriculture. Many think that it is “just planting,” when in reality, planting is one of the many skills in agriculture. We denounce any belittling of agriculture. If it is so easy, anybody can do it, but in reality, few choose this field. 

Professions in agriculture can range from agribusiness, research, consultancy, marketing and sales, crop production, field and extension work, to animal husbandry, veterinary supplies, and more. There are many opportunities and fields to choose from.

It is not only the youth who have misconceptions, but adults too. In fact, many parents discourage their children when they express their desire to be in agriculture. Some compare the agricultural profession to “dirty” work because of its nature: working under the sun, tilling the soil, taking care of animals, among others. For us, dirt is wealth; it is a source of income and livelihood. Many students are able to finish their studies because of farming. There is a need to cast new light on agriculture to attract more young people, who are full of new ideas and could learn from the wisdom and experience of the older generations.

Women in agriculture

Women are also needed in agriculture, although this field is not attractive to many. In colleges and universities, fewer women than men enroll in agriculture-related courses. When we asked some female students why they did not choose this field, they said they prefer office jobs inside airconditioned rooms. They also associate agriculture with hard labor. 

However, women have a unique contribution to agriculture. There is a constant growth of women employed in agriculture-related jobs locally and abroad. Many also are self-employed and have their own agriculture-related businesses. They have always been a big contributor to agricultural growth in the Philippines and the world. Most women by nature are nurturing, flexible, and deep thinkers — qualities which are needed in agriculture. Many women in agriculture are successful in the academe, government, and private agencies. Many great scientists, innovators, and researchers in agriculture are women. They are in animal and crop production, research, extension work, and trainings, and they have been involved in tough decision-making in agriculture. They can empower other women to join or simply be inspired to work in the farm or to do related activities.

There are many women farmers, but usually, the land belongs to their husbands, which is the culture here in the country. Even if women want to farm, some cannot due to lack of access to land, education, and training. Moreover, some people with the traditionalist mindset still believe that women should always stay at home to take care of the household chores and the children. We believe that being a mother does not have to prevent one from getting into gardening or farming. Some mothers have become successful farmers. 

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Benefits of a career in agriculture

There are a lot of benefits in working in agriculture. For example, families of our students rely heavily on their agribusiness, so it can be a good source of income and livelihood. We can also become employers by owning an agribusiness, thus helping reduce unemployment in the country. Work can also be found in national and local agriculture agencies, private companies, and NGOs. One can also gain recognition from doing research in agriculture.

Being in this field gives one a chance to help others, especially those in need. We can teach others how to plant, harvest, and produce their own food. We have been teaching people how to garden from the comfort of their homes. 

Unfortunately, there are still millions who are going hungry and many farmers are underpaid. There is still so much to be done. As private citizens, we need to change our perceptions of agriculture and agriculture-related jobs. As consumers, we can support local agriculture by supporting and eating local products. Looking down at the agricultural sector has to stop. Let us thank and respect our farmers who work hard every day in service of the people. They are our real heroes. –

Bea Emma Bachinela is a part-time faculty at University of St. La Salle in the Agribusiness Management Department. She is also a research teacher at St. John’s Institute. In her vacant time, she is a lecturer at New Women for Tomorrow Foundation, going to communities in the country, teaching their members, especially mothers, the basics in vegetable farming. She is an advocate for women farmers and is involved in community work in her hometown.  

Lex Adizon is a high school teacher from St. John’s Institute, Bacolod City. She occasionally writes.