With the Philippines and Southeast Asia grappling with the problem of aging farmers, there is a need for the country and the region to enact policies that will attract younger people into the agriculture sector.

This is the position of Ana P. Sibayan of the Pambansang Kilusan ng mga Samahang Magsasaka (PAKISAMA). She will present her complete paper on what policies are needed to attract the youth into farming during the (ARD2014) which will be held in Manila on November 12 and 13 this year. The ARD Conference will be spearheaded by the Southeast Asian Regional Center for Graduate Study and Research in Agriculture (SEARCA).

“In May 2014, the Asian Farmers’ Association for Sustainable Rural Development (AFA) held a regional sharing on youth in agriculture among its members to identify issues and problems, share initiatives, and come up with policy recommendations on attracting youth to agriculture. These policy recommendations were drawn from national consultations, participatory researches, and the resulting policy proposals by AFA members on the issue,” Sibayan’s preamble to her paper stated.

Based on a recently completed study by the Philippine Center for Postharvest Development and Mechanization and the University of the Philippines Los Baños-Agricultural Mechanization Development Program (UPLB-AMDP), most of the country’s farmers are above 40 years old.

“Most rice farmers were within (the) 40 to 59 age bracket although a high percentage of farmers aged 60 and above was noted in Camarines Sur and Iloilo,” the study of PhilMech and the UPLB-AMDP said.

Sibayan said that while there were some initiatives such as training and support for various sustainable agriculture technologies, and programs to attract the youth into farming, several recommendations from the AFA meets were identified pertaining to capacity building, organizational development, policy advocacy, and partnership with various sectors.

“The needed support to attract the youth to agriculture that were identified include: capacity building (e.g. training on constructive engagement, youth education, scholarship programs, etc.); research (e.g. comparative study of the use of organic and non-organic fertilizers, policy research on incentives for young farmers, research on impact of climate change, etc.); technical support (seeds, production techniques etc.); policy advocacy promoting agriculture (soft loans for young farmers, ASEAN agricultural bank, right to seeds, campaign on land, ect.); and regional exchange programs (youth farmers’ gatherings, farmer exchange, etc.),” Sibayan said.

Sibayan will be one of the speakers in ARD2014, where he will discuss the subject “Policies to Attract the Youth to Agriculture.”

SEARCA Executive Director Dr. Gil Saguiguit said ARD2014 will gather 400 experts from the academe and research institutions, government executives and policymakers, farmer-leaders and practicing farmers, private sector, civil society, and other stakeholders. Former NEDA Director General and currently Economics Professor Dr. Cielito F. Habito will be among the speakers.

The theme of ARD2014 is “Strengthening Resilience, Equity, and Integration in ASEAN Food and Agriculture Systems.”

“There are many issues that will affect the rural and farming sectors of the Philippines and the Southeast Asian region, and the aversion of the youth to become farmers is one critical issue that needs to be addressed in the next few years,” Saguiguit said.

A recent study conducted by the Philippine Rice Research Institute and the International Rice Research Institute covering major rice-producing areas in six Asian countries showed the average age of rice farmers in Nueva Ecija is 58. On the other hand, the average age of rice farmers is 55 in Suphan Buri in Thailand, 54 in Zhejiang in China, 50 in Tamil Nadu state in India, and 49 in East Java in Indonesia and Can Tho in Vietnam.(Viron Hernandez)