By VIC THOR PALARCA

The Filipino farmer is going to be a vanishing breed in the next few years, and the Philippine government is concerned that this trend could worsen food insecurity in an import-dependent country already struggling to meet current food demand, since the average age of the Filipino farmer is 57.

However, there is a silver lining in Philippine agriculture as young farmers, like Ildefonso “Jun” P. Beltran, are taking the necessary steps to infuse young blood into agriculture.

Our farmers’ lifetime commitment to till the land to produce food for other people makes them our main source of sustenance. Without farmers, there will be no raw materials to be processed by big industries. The upcoming problem of aging farmers is most certainly concerning in terms of ensuring successful and efficient food production in the future. 

In order to solve this issue, the Philippine government, through the Department of Agriculture (DA), is taking various initiative in order to attract a younger demographic by providing grants and scholarship programs, counterparting young people to start their own agribusiness enterprises, and providing  all the tools necessary such as training through the Agricultural Training Institute (ATI) in order to slowly incorporate young adults to develop a robust future via agriculture.

Passion for Food

At 28, Jun P. Beltran of Beltran Farms in Barangay Rosario, Tagoloan, Misamis Oriental is already a pro at farming for food consumption and for profit.

Young farmer Jun Beltran is an advocate and practices organic farming. Here, he proudly shows his certificate after joining the 6th Regional Organic Trade Fair held at SM City in Cagayan de Oro City in 2019.

Since he started farming in 2009, his farming venture had already brought him a fortune through his 1.5 area farm teeming with high value crops such as an eggplant area, a greenhouse area for romaine lettuce, kangkong, tomatoes, chili, string beans, sweet basil, bell peppers, banana, coconut, squash, ampalaya, and almost everything that were mentioned in our traditional folk song “Bahay Kubo.”

Although he observed the current young generation has little or no interest in agriculture, Jun found out through social media that they are interested and passionate about food. As far as millennials are concerned, Jun thinks that “food is life.” He added that agriculture must be treated as a field and sector of many opportunities.

“Every time naa koy training nga ma-apilan, ako nang gina-apply dere sa akong farm.” (Every time I get the chance to attend and participate in a training, I apply it to my farm), Jun said in Bisaya.

“It is because of my P40,000 to P50,000 income from selling vegetables that I was able to expand my farm and expand my vegetable production area. My biggest earner lately is my lettuce through hydroponics,” Jun said further.

Jun started small by concentrating on one plot and one project at a time. His persistence and dedication to farming made it possible for him to attend various trade fairs and agri-fairs in the metro.

Aside from sheer determination and hard work, Jun is quick to acknowledge that his farming venture was made possible by the ATI, Municipal Agriculture Office, the Provincial Agriculture Office, and the DA.

Supporting Young Farmers via Government Training Programs

Training is an effective means to support young people who are not knowledgeable enough about agriculture and farming. Programs like the Young Filipino Farm Leaders Training Program in Japan (YFFLTPJ) do a great job at providing all the necessary agriculture coaching for the young farmer recipients.

YFFLTPJ is a commitment of the Japanese government to ASEAN regions through the Japan Agricultural Exchange Council (JAEC) and the Japan Ministry of Agriculture Forestry and Fisheries (MAFF).

All suited up: Jun Beltran was a YFFLTPJ program recipient in 2018. He was one of the qualifiers sent to Japan for an 11-month farm immersion in Japan.

Jun was a program recipient in 2018, as he was one of the qualifiers sent to Japan for an 11- month farm immersion. “One of the most common issues that create resistance for young people to get into farming and agribusiness is being clueless where to start. The young generation of today lacks the understanding on how farming is directly related to the development of our economy. Young people must understand that they can make an impact regarding the future of food production.” Jun stressed.

The said program also aims to foster exchanges with young farmers’ organizations in the host country, and at the same time promote mutual cultural understanding and friendship through personal contacts with the Japanese farmers in the local communities.

Enticing the youth to engage in agriculture

Through modern technology and with the younger generation gaining every day perspectives, the current direction of agriculture in the Philippines is geared towards making it more attractive and more appealing to the youth.

“Dili nato batasanon nga kung ma-failure, mu-undang ta” (We should not make it a habit to quit  whenever we fail) Jun shared, stressing the importance of resilience. 

“I had my fair share of failures in the past since during my early years in farming, I did not know how the middle men or the buyers work. Most of the time, when inexperienced farmers would go to them, they would be met with different ‘circumstances’ in which they end up selling their farm produce at a very cheap price.

What sets Jun Beltran apart from other young folks his age is that every time he got the chance to attend and participate a training, he applies it directly in his farm.

The agriculture industry of the Philippines is now quite aggressive in not only providing stable and affordable food for Filipinos. Its goal had escalated into making sure everyone gets to be interested and to participate in agriculture.

For Jun P. Beltran, each abundant harvest does not only celebrate and honor the existing workers in the agriculture sector, but also reminds the youth that there is money to be made and things to be learned in the agri-sector.

Pushing farmers to work even harder, Jun stressed that there is money in farming. Farms, when managed properly, promise to give profitable returns to farmer-families, and this is what the Department of Agriculture is prioritizing. Through technology and proper training, agricultural production is increased that brings profitable income to our farmers.

For more of Jun Beltran’s hydroponic technology, you can watch the YouTube video here.

Photos by Vic Thor Palarca

This piece was first published in https://ati.da.gov.ph/ati-main/