By Vina Medenilla

Even students are now realizing the importance of supporting the agriculture sector.

The Agriculture Students Association of the Philippines (ASAP) was formed because of the absence of a national association for agriculture students in the Philippines.

ASAP is a youth organization that serves as a platform where students from 11 universities and colleges can take part in modernizing and developing the agriculture sector.

Last August 21, 2020, over 100 participants joined the ASAP kick-off event, together with Senator Francis Pangilinan, DA Secretary William Dar, and JT Solis of Mayani.

“This is an organization that needs to be supported and needs to become successful if we are to turn agriculture around in the country and modernize agriculture finally to address poverty and our security,” Pangilinan said during the online launch.

Reginald Magcalas, an Agricultural Biotechnology student of UP Los Baños and an ASAP founding member, said, “ASAP gives these youth agricultural organizations a voice to empower their advocacies and goals for the agriculture sector. It is now high time to let the youth be heard, especially when it comes to talks regarding agriculture because the youth is the future of the agriculture sector.”

To date, ASAP is composed of students from De La Salle University, Polytechnic University of the Philippines-Sta. Mesa, University of Santo Tomas, Cavite State University-Main Campus, Central Luzon State University, Mariano Marcos State University, University of the Philippines-Los Baños, Cebu Technological University, West Visayas State University, Central Mindanao University, and Western Mindanao State University.

The organization seeks to unite like-minded individuals that are dedicated to the development of Philippine agriculture. When asked about what the association stands up for, Magcalas said, “The association believes in collective youth action, especially in the agriculture sector. The convening of different agriculture organizations throughout the country with the same mindset, same advocacies, and the same goal of furthering the agriculture sector is what ASAP aims to do.”

Debunking the stereotypes

Through advocacies and promotions, ASAP also aims to break stigmas revolving around agriculture that are not usually pointed out, yet creates a wrong mentality to some Filipinos.

“Mag-aral ka kung ‘di pupulutin ka sa kangkungan” (Study hard so you don’t end up in the kangkong fields.) is one of the remarks that we commonly hear, but leaves a negative outlook on agriculture. There are reasons why these stereotypes must be stopped and corrected. Nina Salamanca, ASAP founding member stressed, “Phrases like this are easily thrown around when in fact it can come out as demeaning to our farmers.” In some cases, you’d hear farmers say, “Anak, mag-aral ka ng mabuti para hindi ka magaya sakin.” (Study hard so you don’t end up like me.) And it speaks so much of how they see themselves based on how society perceives them to be.

Agriculture is more than just the fields, or growing crops and animals. What many people see is just a portion of a bigger system that involves trading, processing of materials, marketing, and more.

Like any other profession, agriculture requires commitment and hard work. This doesn’t mean that we have to work harder than other jobs, as some people see it, but there are several ways to make traditional farming methods easier and lighter. Magcalas explained, “Agriculture is evolving, we have new technologies that can help us in our work. New machinery, innovations, smartphone apps, and even drone technology and satellite imaging are now used.”

“In breaking these stereotypes, we, regardless of status and age, can individually take action for collective outcomes. First is to start within ourselves by having empathy. To put ourselves in the shoes of those who are in the agriculture sector will help us understand their situation well. Experiencing and learning their state will tell how these stereotypes aren’t right. Second is going back to where our food comes from. Acknowledge the producers of our food as they contribute a lot to our nation’s food system and to our daily lives. Third is to research. If you want to have a better understanding of the industry, research is the easiest way to start,” he adds.

Making the youth interested in agriculture

In getting the youth to engage and be curious in agriculture, some methods that ASAP members would recommend is one, bringing agriculture to social media. Youth who’d like to learn agriculture social media can also join webinar series by any institutions, groups, or farmers that conduct workshops and online seminars. 

Two, breaking the stigma that agriculture is a low-income job. Three, getting influential people who are into farming like Judy Ann Santos who has shared her experience in urban farming during a webinar by Agri Tayo. 

Lastly, by sharing the struggles and success stories of our local farmers to show the youth how agriculture also provides business opportunities that can give one a reliable source of income.

ASAP is open to the different agricultural student organizations nationwide.

For more information, contact peter.teamkiko@gmail.com.