This year will mark Agriculture magazine’s 25th anniversary. The magazine’s first issue appeared in newsstands in October 1997 with the headlines “Alfredo Rivera: He developed his market before going into full production” and “El Nino and our Fisheries.” An issue cost P20.
The magazine was started by veteran agri journalist Zac Sarian, who was then also Manila Bulletin’s Agriculture section editor. His “From the Editor” section is titled “This New Agriculture Magazine” and begins with “No matter how much the government promotes industrialization, there will always be a place for agriculture in the Philippines. In fact, agriculture should be given as much support as industry because a progressive agriculture sector will, in fact, support industrialization.”
25 years later, his message still rings true. Allow me to mention parts it:
“Agriculture produces many of the raw materials which industry processes into goods of higher value. It also produces the food for people in industry and out. A progressive industry, in fact, will provide a ready market for agricultural produce. With higher purchasing power as a result of employment in manufacturing firms, industrial workers become a big market for the meat, rice, fish, vegetables, fruits and many other produce from the farm. In other words, agriculture and industry need each other.
“A prosperous agriculture sector will likewise promote peace and stability. After all, people with a full stomach are less prone to commit crime. Increased opportunities in the countryside will also mean less people migrating to the city…”
The purpose of Agriculture magazine was, and remains, simple: “To help promote a more productive, more profitable and more sustainable agriculture.”
It seems very little has changed since 1997. 25 years later, we are still trying to explain how a robust agriculture industry benefits other industries as well as the entire citizenry, how having well-compensated farmers and fishers (apart from it being a human right) directly impacts city dwellers, and how food security is extremely important to the growth of a nation.
25 years later, it seems less people care about or are aware of the importance of agriculture. More farmers are urging their children to find jobs in the city to escape a life of debt and poverty, many farms still suffer from societal and systemic injustice, and there is still a disturbing amount of people who think that farmers shouldn’t be compensated fairly for their work.
But it’s not all bleak. Young people are slowly considering agriculture as a career, the internet has made it easier for farmers to advertise their farm and goods, and more consumers are actively seeking to support small farmers. The local agriculture industry is by no means nearing stability (as its reliance on imports and the still rampant killings of farmers show), but agri-advocates and businesspeople continue to push for a profitable, vibrant future.
Sir Zac passed away in 2020, just a couple of years shy of seeing the magazine he built and nurtured reach its Silver Jubilee. It would have been wonderful if he could have witnessed the 25th anniversary of what is essentially his baby. I would have wanted to know what his thoughts on how Philippine agriculture has changed in 25 years are and what his feelings are regarding where the industry is now.
Working in agriculture, even in a publication that aims to inspire (without sugarcoating its hardships), can be soul crushing sometimes. The number of farmers who fail is high, and many of the obstacles that face farmers and fishers are systemic and oftentimes beyond one’s control (hello climate crisis, hello Land Reform). But when a farmer succeeds, it can be the greatest feeling in the world, and in an industry that’s constantly in danger of dying, a cause for celebration, as well as a story to take lessons from.
Sir Zac says as much: “We will provide you with a regular dose of successful agri-people and their ideas and practical know-how, not only to inspire but to actually make you go out, roll your sleeves and do your own brand of farming… All these will be given to you in clear, simple writing.”
We in Agriculture magazine, and consequently its website Agriculture.com.ph (Agriculture Online on Facebook) and Manila Bulletin’s Agriculture section strive to continue what Sir Zac set out to do: inspire newbies to either take up agriculture as a career or alert seasoned farmers to new ways to scale up operations by featuring the latest trends and tech, successful practitioners, and business and marketing tips. 25 years after Agriculture magazine’s inception, we hope to continue to inspire more people to go into and stay in agriculture, and we also hope to make Sir Zac proud.