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WEF IN MANILA | How to feed the world when the new generation doesn't want to go into farming

(Photo by Likha Cuevas-Miel, InterAksyon.com)

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MANILA - There is little incentive to go into farming today, thus today's farmers do not want their children to follow in their footsteps. What would happen then if the number of farmers begin to dwindle? How are we going to feed the world's booming population 40 years down the road?

This question was tackled by leading experts in the field during the At the World Economic Forum (WEF) on East Asia's Grow Asia Agriculture Forum at the New World Hotel in Makati late Wednesday.

Secretary Francis Pangilinan, Philippine Presidential Assistant for Food Security and Agricultural Modernization, said that he was surprised to learn that there is also a feeling of neglect and discrimination among farmers even in developed countries like Germany and it is not only exclusive to smallholders in emerging markets like the Philippines.

"If we are to achieve food security, we have to secure our farmers," the former senator told the audience.

This feeling of insecurity is probably the reason why in the the Philippines the new generation doesn't want to go into farming--a rising threat to world food security.

"When the new generation refuses to farm, who is going to feed us? Where will we get our food," Pangilinan said.

This question is probably best answered by another question along this line: Who will be enticed to go into farming in this country where the average age of a farmer is 57, where the average highest educational attainment in a farming household is Grade 4 that tills a 1.5 hectare land earning less than $50 a month?

There has to be a shift in paradigm, a farmer-centric view of agriculture in order to increase productivity and hasten poverty alleviation, the panelists at the forum said

That was a point that Tobias Marchland, head of Bayer Pte Ltd for Asia-Pacific, has raised, saying that stakeholders first must give respect to the farmers.

"They are producing our food, [but] they do not get the respect, the solutions. It is very important that when we interact, as stakeholders, government...there has to be a level of respect, acknowledgement," Marchland said. The bottomline is, there should be a dialogue "at eye level" and that the farmers are not looked down upon.

This is very important in the transfer of knowledge and technologies to the farmers. The Bayer executive also said there is a need to use mobile technology to be able to reach the farmers and organize available information that would be accessible to them.

"Research and development should be research for development," he said, adding that this is a way to empower and celebrate farmers--giving confidence to farming communities.

Financing for social stability

Stephen Groff, Asian Development Bank (ADB) vice president for operations, said agricultural development is one of the most effective ways to reduce poverty.

"Growth in agriculture is four times more effective in reducing poverty than any other methods since most of the poor people live in rural areas," he said.

There are 440 million smallholders worldwide and they should be at the core of inclusive growth in Asia but Groff said only 3 percent of smallholder financing is met.

"This is important [to address] not just because we have a moral responsibility to [help] people living in abject circumstances but that is also important for social stability. More and more people are living in these abject situations and circumstances, the less scure they are, the less secure are their individual countries," the ADB executive said.

The subject of social stability amid poverty is "a very burning issue," he added.

According to Groff, the key to this is knowing how institutions can effectively serve the farmers' needs, having the right mechanisms in place, the right instruments and the proper understanding of the risk-averse nature of a smallholder farmer.

PPPs

Public and private partnerships (PPPs) are also one of the answers to securing the livelihoods and futures of smallholder farmers. To be able to effectively deploy PPPs, a country has to have efficiencies in the value chain.

Clustering of smallholdings is one way of addressing that and according to the Philippine presidential adviser on agriculture, farming clusters can be formed by grouping 10 to 20 smallholders with the aid of proper government support.

Pangilinan cited that in Thailand, the farming clusters can have as much as 15 hectares devoted to high-value crops, with the private sector donating equipment or locating their packing source onsite. Exporting companies would then buy their produce, effecively securing their livelihoods.

"They [farming families] would go into farming if it's viable, if it's profitable," he said. This setup has been implented in Nueva Ecija, which is north of Manila, where farming cooperatives were able to increase their onion production from 26 metric tons to 360 metric tons.

"This is a public-private partnership, where their income is six times the national average. So farming enterprises can be viable," he said, citing the case of Jolllibee Foods Corp which has been sourcing its ingredients from farming cooperatives through its corporate social responsibility arm.

Farmers must also be given some kind of flexibility and in the Jollibee setup, only 60 percent of the cooperatives' produce are bought by the fastfood chain and the rest can be sold by the farmers at prices that they can dicate.

"The key is to replicate it, get more conglomerates to buy into this kind of arrangement," Pangilinan said.

By making farming viable, secure and profitable, the world would be able to secure its food future.

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