The daring youth of agriculture
The youth’s presence in agriculture is so important that there should be increased focus on ensuring that they not only participate, but also lead, in the industry’s development.
Last May 17, at the “Usapang Pagkain: PCAFI-HAN” led by president Danny Fausto of the Philippine Chamber of Agriculture and Food, Inc. (Pcafi), they promoted the theme: “Youth and Water: Keys to Agriculture Growth and Sustainability.” PCAFI-HAN, a play on the name of the group, is held every month where agriculture stakeholders discuss hot topics.
Agriculture, of course, cannot exist without water. While we have enough water, the government does not manage this effectively. Note that while India collects 60 percent of its rainwater, we collect only 4 percent.
President Marcos has already identified water as a top priority.
In two Asian Development Bank (ADB) studies in 2013 and 2016 covering 48 countries, the Philippines placed at the bottom third, with a rating of “1” and “2” during those years, respectively.
A presidential public-private water task force, where I served as the private secretary general, then held six water summits on the ADB-identified water governance aspects, producing a six-volume report (each signed by a separate University of Philippines-Los Baños dean) and submitting key recommendations to the government. Our ADB rating then increased to “3” in 2020.
However, many of these recommendations have not been implemented—and much more has to be done.
Agriculture can’t also grow without our youth. With the average age of our farmers and fisherfolk at 58 years old, the young ones must now step in to grow our food. This can only happen if agriculture becomes profitable.
At the May 17 forum, Carina Ong Tan from Fishta Seafood, Inc. showed how youth provided the needed innovation for their business to be profitable. Noreen Young Ong from Global Food Solutions, Inc. likewise explained how youth-suggested ideas and technologies enabled her company to successfully export their products to 42 countries. She then talked about youth involvement in the Agribusiness and Countryside Development Foundation (in partnership with Management Association of the Philippines), or ABCD-MAP.
In July 2021, the ABCD-MAP board (of which Noreen is now a member) transformed into a youth-oriented board from an original membership of mostly executives in their senior years.
Today, 80 percent of members are aged 45 years old and below. It is also led by its 33-year-old chair, Julius Barcelona of Harbest Agribusiness Corp.
ABCD-MAP already had an impressive track record of consistent weekly forums over 14 years led by chair Ramon Ilusorio (now deceased) and the very competent executive director Bernadette Yap. Nevertheless, the following youth-initiated changes further improved performance:
The ABCD-MAP vision became more focused. ABCD-MAP would be “a source of information with a management perspective, to contribute to agribusiness and countryside development and the alleviation of poverty in our land.”
The weekly forum participation increased from 120 to 8,400 a month.
The fee went from P250 a session to free of charge, if viewing is done two weeks after the forum. This is accessible to all via the group’s YouTube page.
Topics in the past included making the orchid industry viable, local governments’ investment prospects in seaweeds, and benefits and challenges of coconut oil. Previous speakers included former Socio-economic Planning Secretary Cielito Habito, National Scientist Fabian Dayrit and National Irrigation Authority chief Eduardo Guillen.
The reach has expanded from Metro Manila to Southeast Asia, India, Middle East, United States and Canada. Previously, male participants dominated the number of participants, now it’s 56 percent male and 44 percent female. Those mostly aged 55 years old and up participated before, now 75 percent are below 55.
Most importantly, the ABCD-MAP also put emphasis on action (such as project initiatives and tech application) resulting from information obtained from those discussions.
We must focus not only on water for survival, but also on youth for growth. It is the youth who will provide us the innovation and creativity to enable us to compete effectively in our challenging global environment.
The author is Agriwatch chair, former secretary of presidential flagship programs and projects, and former undersecretary of the Department of Agriculture and the Department of Trade and Industry. Contact is agriwatch_phil@yahoo.