Lawmakers and government officials are urging students to take up agriculture-related courses, saying demand and pay for these fields will increase as the world grapples with food security and climate change.
Agri science for Romblon
The Philippines also needs farmers who are not afraid to use technology, and agricultural scientists and engineers to modernize farms and the fisheries sector as local farmers are getting much too old and fewer, Sen. Francis “Kiko" Pangilinan said.
At present, the agriculture sector in the country is characterized by “too much politics and too little science," he said.
Valedictorians in the field
The sentiment that the country needs to improve the agricultural industry was echoed by Agriculture Secretary Proceso Alcala.
Alcala said students and the younger generation should not look down on the sector. “There is money in agriculture," he said.
Alcala, a civil engineer who became a farmer before entering politics, noted that in his hometown of Quezon province, farmers have learned to be business-minded and have adopted technologies that increased their yield. One farmer, he noted, have bought a 4x4 car and have sent his children to school.
Alcala said he has encouraged students in his hometown to take up agriculture courses. Students on top of their classes are given scholarships. “In my time, only those of us in Row 4 take agriculture. Now, it's the valedictorians and salutatorians," he said.
Big demand due to climate change
Agham party-list Representative Angelo Palmones said the country is in need of marine scientists, entomologists, plant pathologists, and soil and agriculture scientists.
“We need to develop these kinds of careers. There is a big demand for them because of climate change and food security issues," he said. “We need these people to strengthen our food production," Palmones added.
The Agham representative warned that the Philippines might lack marine scientists in the near future.
He noted that graduates of marine science in the local universities are being snapped up by our neighbors such as Vietnam and Cambodia as they intensify their mariculture and aquaculture sectors.
“Every year, they get our marine scientists. They are highly paid because these countries are trying to strengthen these industries," he said.
Farmers as big-time businessmen
In many countries, farmers are considered big-time businessmen, Pangilinan noted. But in the Philippines, many farmers are still eking out subsistence farming that barely provides for their family.
“Their grandparents and parents were farmers, but they were still poor," he said, noting that children of farmers tend to go to the cities to find work or become overseas Filipino workers.
“We must raise the income of farmers and fisherfolks because the young people are no longer going to farming," Pangilinan noted.
The government, Pangilinan said, must provide support and training to farmers and fisherfolks to encourage them to try out new technologies that will increase their outputs and income.
Farmers should also be taught how to be entrepreneurial so that they would not be exploited by middlemen and retailers, he said.
Government intervention needed
The government should also build interventions like infrastructure and postharvest facilities to minimize the losses of farmers. According to DA data, 10% of the total palay harvests are lost due to insufficient handling and facilities.
Meanwhile, Secretary of Agriculture Alcala cited the government's push to build irrigation facilities in the country's farmlands, which would lift production and income. According to the DA chief, farmers with irrigated farms could count for more than 2 croppings per year.
Alcala also noted that the government is pushing for the widespread use of mariculture technologies in the country, saying this would be a good method to raise high-value seafood that can be exported.
Mariculture, a specialized branch of aquaculture that entails the cultivation of seafood in a penned part of the ocean, would modernize the fisheries sector and provide better income to fisherfolks, he said.
A 10x10 m fish pen will yield the same tonnage as a five hectare-fish pond, Alcala said.
Recently, the DA established the first mariculture park in the Philippines in Romblon.
The government is allocating P2 million for the development of the Marine Breeding and Research Center (MBRC) which will rise in the island province of Romblon soon, Alcala said.
The Center, which will be established in a two-hectare coastal land that is part of a cove in barangay Canduyong in Odiongan, is an offshoot of Republic Act 9460, which was passed in 2007.
“The project will finally push thru after four years, as we have found a suitable area that is typhoon and pollution-free," Alcala said.
“This is part of the directives of President Aquino for us to go to the farthest barangay and extend government assistance. We want the people to feel the assistance of the government," he said.
Alcala, who visited the site early this month, instructed Dir. Malcolm Sarmiento of the Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources (BFAR) to closely coordinate with the provincial government of Romblon and fast track the release of the funds.
Sarmiento stressed that the operation of the Center which will include research and experimentation as well as breeding, propagation and distribution of spawners, fry and fingerlings, will be supervised by BFAR in close coordination with the provincial government.
The MBRC also seeks to improve existing fishery technologies and maximize potentials of the fishing industry.
“We will also seek the assistance of the Southeast Asian Fisheries Development Center because of their expertise in aqua research and development," Sarmiento said. — TJD, GMA News