The Making of a Proud, Prosperous Farmer

“There seems to be but three ways for a nation to acquire wealth. The first is by war, as 
the Romans did, in plundering their conquered neighbors. This is robbery. The second by 
commerce, which is generally cheating. The third by agriculture, the only honest way, 
wherein man receives a real increase of the seed thrown into the ground, in a kind of 
continual miracle, wrought by the hand of God in his favor, as a reward for his innocent 
life and virtuous industry.”  -- Benjamin Franklin

Back in 2001, after a semi-annual meeting in our company’s global headquarters, my boss (senior VP, international) and I were zipping along the German autobahn at over 100 kph in his Citroen sedan when a big black Mercedes Benz swooshed by us as if we were just parked. I commented to my seat mate that he should be driving a car like that. Without missing a heartbeat, his quick answer was, “Only farmers drive those cars. It is big enough to load a couple of sheep.”  Whatever he meant by that, the fact is, farmers there can afford Mercedes Benzes.  

Contrast that here. Most small Filipino farmers belittle themselves and their profession. When asked what he does for a living, a small farmer will unfailingly answer “Magsasaka lang po” (I am only a farmer). Why? Because more often than not he is a very poor, semi-literate (Grade 3) ragged and ageing (59 years old) hillbilly, and looked down by the rest of society.  
The long-standing government approach of compensating the lack of money with widespread dole outs in seeds and inputs does not help improve the self-respect of farmers. 
There is a simple reason why our farmers are poor: they earn meagre incomes from farming. That, in turn, is caused by a debilitating system but the main reasons are low farm productivity, usurious interests on money borrowed from loan sharks, and low prices for crops. 

The poverty incidence among our small farmers is unforgivably high. These data speak for themselves.

Commodity Poverty incidence, % Remarks
Rice 30.2  
Corn 56.6  
Coconut 40.0 Coconut has become a secondary crop
Vegetables 35.3  
Other crops 44.0  
Farm Workers 49.6 Sugar, fruits, others
Other subsectors 36.3 Livestock,poultry, fishing
All 42.2  

Source: BRIONES (2016)

To make matters worse, hard work, an unglamorous profession, and very little income drive younger people away from farming towards white or blue collar jobs in the cities. Data from agricultural colleges and universities show a consistent decline in enrolment in agriculture-related courses.

Our small farmers (and fisher folks) produce a large part of the rice, corn, fish, poultry, livestock, vegetables and fruits we all consume. Without them, people in the city will not eat. Yet they are the most neglected segment of Philippine society. 

And these are the very same farmers on whom Agriculture Secretary Manuel Piñol pins his hope of achieving rice sufficiency or food security in the next six years. Unless he strikes a course away from the formulas of the past, he will not likely meet his goal. 

We don’t have to ambition Benzes for our small farmers. But government, specifically the Agriculture Department, must improve the situation fast.

For this, we offer a simple formula.

For improvement
• Scholarship for children
• “Agripreneurship” training
• Awards, rewards, recognition
• Agriculture in K2-12
New initiatives
• Priority lanes in gov’t offices
• Basic agriculture education in 
   elementary grades
• TESDA /ATI NC2 courses for 
• Soft loans for agro-related 
    business to new agro 
For improvement
• Low interest, easy credit
• Field support/services
• Organic farming
• Integrated farming
• Farm roads
• Irrigation
• Electricity
• Technology
• Crops 
New initiatives
• Farmer - supplier link
• Farmer - market link
• PPP Post harvest facilities
• PPP Processing facilities
• Climate change adaptation
• Consolidate small farms = economies of scale
• Crop zoning
• Increased productivity
• Quality produce
• Increased profitability
• Better life for farmers
• Motivated farmers
• Food sufficiency/security

Achieving food security/sufficiency involves three main players: government (DA), systems (policies and programs) and the farmer.

The role of the DA is to “create the right environment, policies and programs that will help make farming profitable for the farmers.” This can be accomplished through easy credit facilities, improved technology, supplier/market - farmer linkages, improved infrastructure and support facilities, and planned production through crop zoning and consolidation to achieve economies of scale. 

Private sector and LGU participation in post-harvest and processing facilities should be encouraged. 

Dole outs should be confined to calamity/emergency situations and with very clear beginning and end. 
Making farming an attractive profession is a major challenge. The Department of Education should restore basic agriculture education in primary and elementary schools to inculcate respect for farming at an early age. More scholarships to agricultural courses must be introduced. This, coupled with government financial help for new graduates to put up agro-related businesses (production, processing, storage, transport, research, etc.) can help encourage young people to go into farming. Building the competence of farmers in meeting local and international standards will increase the confidence of our farmers and open up new markets. Even a simple program of providing priority lanes, like that for senior citizens, in government offices and banks will help improve self-respect of farmers.   

If these are put in place, we can start to realistically dream about food sufficiency/security for the country. And our farmers can also start entertaining the possibility of driving big black trucks.   

(Ed Cejar is an organic farmer from Malungon, Sarangani.)