The Philippines is an agricultural country, with many Filipinos in rural communities engaged in agriculture-related work or businesses. About 30 per cent of the total land area of the country is cultivated by almost 5 million farmers. The biggest problem threatening the sector, and as a result, our food supply is the rapid decline in the number of our farmers and fishermen.
The population is rapidly ageing and what few there are, are poorly educated. According to a a country paper for the FFTC-MARDI International Seminar on Cultivating the Young Generation of Farmers with Farmland Policy Implications, May 25-29, MARDI, Serdang, Selangor, Malaysia by Dr. Marilyn M. Elauria, the average age of farmers is 57 years and average level of education is primary.
In the same article, it states that “farming as a profession has become less attractive to the young and educated people. Most Filipinos do not like to go into agriculture because of the level of difficulty and the supposedly low income being associated with it. Knowledge in agriculture through education can make farming appealing and encourage the young generation to go into farming.”
In fact, according to the Commission on Higher Education (CHED), there is a steady decline in the enrolment in agriculture, forestry, and fisheries courses in colleges and universities in the country for the past 10 years. From 94,900 enrollees in 2001, it is now down to 49,823 in 2011 or an almost 50% decrease.
In general, the solution to this problem seems fairly simple. Knowledge in agriculture through education can make farming appealing and encourage the young generation to go into farming. Higher farm productivity, hence, better income will stop people from associating farm-life with poverty. The Philippine government has long been using technology to battle resource constraints in the area of education and training.
E-learning and Agriculture
The e-Learning for Agriculture and Fisheries is a major component of the Philippine’s Department of Agriculture’s e-Extension Program, with the Agricultural Training Institute as the lead implementing agency, in collaboration with other government agencies, state universities and colleges and nongovernment organization. What it does is provide training and education to farmers in the country.
Right now, the easiest way to reach the many farmers and fishermen scattered all over the country is through the use of simple technology that even the low-income sectors have: the mobile phone.
Using mobile’s reach
As early as 2007, mobile phones have provided government a more efficient alternative to a traditional extension system for agriculture, fisheries and natural resources sector, making the electronic delivery of services and materials easier.
By maximizing the use of information andcommunication technology through a readily available device, the requirements of modernizing agriculture and the fisheries sector can be more easily provided.
It is not only one way: it creates a central bridge where farmers, fishers and other stakeholders meet and transact to enhance productivity, profitability and global competitiveness.
Using the principles of distance learning, the e-learning system distributes various courses developed and specifically designed by developers from partner agencies such as the Department of Agriculture and the Department of Science and Technology for agricultural extension workers, farmers and fishermen.
Digital resources are also made available for supplemental learning, including web-based courses, and video tutorials in YouTube.
Among the many courses available are modules on the latest technologies and information on various crops, livestock and poultry, fisheries, sustainable agriculture, social technology including trade and management and more.
Mobile is two-way
The Farmer’s Contact Center is another service created as a support center for the clients of the Department of Agriculture. Its task is to deliver farm and business advisory services through the use of ICT, using voice (call) and short messaging system (text) modes thru a pre-defined toll-free number specified across the country, as well as online communication like chat, online fora and email.
Social networking sites such as FB, Twitter and YouTube have also made two-way communication between the Department of Agriculture’s various services and the people they service.
Digital, video, social and mobile are the youthful tools for a connected generation. Can they truly be used in order to give agriculture the much-needed transfusion of young blood?
We’re not sure yet, but we shall see.