Dwindling number of farmers threaten food security in Philippines

Delon Porcalla (The Philippine Star) - July 29, 2017 - 4:00pm

MANILA, Philippines - An administration member of the House of Representatives raised fears the Philippines may be completely dependent on rice imports in the next 20 years amid the dwindling number of farmers in the country.

Samar Rep. Edgar Sarmiento said the country is losing at least one percent of its workforce in the agricultural sector every year.

“This is very alarming. We are losing not hundreds but tens of thousands of work force involved in food production every year,” he said.

From 2013 to 2015, there was a steady decline of an average of .53 to 1.39 percent on the country’s agricultural employment rate based on data from the Philippine Statistics Authority.

 He attributed this to the declining number of young men and women who pursue careers in agriculture as they would rather work in call centers and do odd jobs in fastfood chains and department stores.

 In 2013, there were at least 31 million male and female Filipinos involved in agriculture, but this shrank to 29.1 million in 2015.

It was also reported that the age of the average Filipino farmer is 57.

“This means that at least 1.92 million Filipinos who used to contribute in food production have passed on or have moved to other forms of livelihood in just two years,” the Visayan lawmaker said.

At the same time, he expressed concern over the shrinking agricultural lands which have been converted either for residential or industrial purposes, thereby reducing significantly the country’s production capacity amid threats of climate change.

“The  country will definitely plunge into a severe food crisis within 20 years. We should reverse this pattern before it is too late.” Sarmiento said.

 Sarmiento said it is time for the government to perk up the interest of the youth to go into farming through increased educational subsidies and scholarships for students who want to pursue a career in the agricultural sector.

 He added that agricultural colleges and universities should also be modernized to allow the country’s new breed of farmers to learn the world’s most advanced technologies in agricultural production.

 “We should start dismantling the stigma that farming is hard, dirty, financially unrewarding and suited only for the uneducated. In other countries, farmers are highly respected and very well off,” Sarmiento said.

“If we can modernize our farming industry, our farmers will never feel the need to look for other means of livelihood and our country will become really self-sufficient in its food requirement. Food security is a national security issue,” he said.

Agricultural courses and related fields should be fully subsidized to encourage the sons and daughters of farmers to carry on with the profession of their parents, Sarmiento said.

“We have an oversupply of nurses, teachers, criminologists and IT professionals and they mostly end up in call centers or they go overseas. On the other hand, the people who toil our soil are rapidly disappearing. We should start reinvigorating our agricultural profession,” he added.

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