Land for new agriculture graduates

Published December 7, 2020, 8:27 PM

by Manila Bulletin

Secretary John Castriciones of the Department of Agrarian Reform announced this weekend a program that, he hopes, will encourage more young Filipinos to engage in farming and, in the process, help attain the goal of food security for the country.

Fresh graduates of agricultural courses, he said, will be offered three hectares of land each. These can serve as their “farm laboratories” in which they may apply the theories and practices they learned in school. The program will help revitalize the agriculture industry with a younger generation of farmers with greater understanding of modern farm technology.

The idea of granting free land to prospective farmers may have been inspired by the Homestead Act with which the United States encouraged Americans to go west to farm the vast lands opening in the new states outside the original 13 American colonies. Signed by President Abraham Lincoln in 1862, the Homestead Act gave each applicant 160 acres of public land – about 60 hectares –helping in the westward growth of the young nation. The US has since grown into a big industrial nation, dominating world trade, but agriculture continues to contribute its huge share to the US economy.

The Philippine economy today is said to be in transition from one based on agriculture to one based more on services and manufacturing. The main industries today are electronics assembly, aerospace, business process outsourcing, food manufacturing, shipbuilding, chemicals, textiles, garments, , metals, petroleum refining, fishing, steel, and rice.

Main imports are electronic products, mineral fuels, machinery and transport equipment, iron and steel, textile fabrics, grains, chemicals, and plastics. Primary exports are electronic products, transport equipment, garments, copper products, petroleum products, coconut oil, and fruits.

To most of our people, our most important imports are rice shipments from Thailand and Vietnam. In 2018, high rice prices were blamed for the inflation rate — market prices — reaching 6.7 percent in September of 2018. The rise was stopped largely by the Rice Tariffication Law which allowed huge imports of rice. This was great for Filipino customers but not for rice farmers whose income fell as they could not compete with the cheap imported rice.

Many economists continue to pin their hopes on Philippine agriculture. We should be able to produce enough rice to feed our people. And we should be able produce more export products like coconut oil, seafood, processed food, and beverages.

We need to strengthen Philippine agriculture. We have the lands, the climate, the water and other resources that only need to be mobilized with more irrigation, more modern farm equipment, more extensive financing, and marketing organization.

The DAR’s program of encouraging more young people to engage in farming through the program of land for agriculture graduates will surely help.