A couple of weeks ago, the internet was abuzz with the report that Jeyrick Sigmaton, aka Carrot Man, won an acting award at the International Film Festival Manhattan 2021 in New York for his performance in the film, “Dayas.” It’s his first acting award, which is extra special because it’s also his first time to appear in a film.
Carrot Man burst into the public eye in 2016 when Edwina Bandong posted a photo on social media of Sigmaton carrying a basket of carrots. The public immediately gravitated towards his looks, earning him internet fame and later a career as a model, boyband member, and now actor.
On the surface, Sigmaton’s story sounds like a fairytale: The farmer plucked from obscurity and thrust into a life of fame and fortune, a chance at a better life. But his story also underscores the harsh and unsavory truth about farming in the Philippines: That it is something to be escaped, that staying in the industry dooms one to a life of lack and hardship.
We cannot fault Sigmaton for seeing an opportunity and seizing it; in fact, we wish him all the best in his foray into the entertainment industry (though a 2020 article about him says that he also still farms carrots). But his story should be a wake-up call (one of the many over the decades) to an industry in deep decline, an industry whose robustness is tied to the country having enough food to feed its citizens: if there isn’t an immediately viable way to make money in agriculture, more people are going to leave.
While yes, there are many success stories of farmers, big and small, who have managed to make a lot of money off their farms, there are unfortunately more stories of farmers who remain in poverty and who, at the first chance, will encourage their children to take jobs in the city because they have never experienced making money from their fields.
We can say that different organizations from both private and public sectors are doing their best to change this, but in the end, the real proof that anything works is simple: If the farmers involved make enough money for a good quality of life for themselves and their families appropriate to their cultural and community norms.
Strangely, an invisible but damaging part of what keeps farmers from progressing is other people thinking they know more than the farmers themselves, or other people dictating what they think farmers should be happy with. For example, it continues to appall me that there are people out there who think that farmers don’t have the right to earn money, that tilling the land should be a reward unto itself. This way of thinking doesn’t just negatively affect farmers and the local agriculture industry, but the whole country’s food security. After all, can you blame farmers for encouraging their children not to follow in their footsteps if there is nothing to gain in the fields? We have to remember that farmers are people and, cultural differences aside, they probably want the same basic things as you and me: At the very least, enough financial security for a life that will offer each member of their family the chance to thrive in the way they choose.
As the 2021 Presidential election approaches, the Presidential candidates have been summarizing their plans for the country’s agriculture industry. We hope that whoever wins, they offer more strategic and effective reforms, assistance, and support to the industry and its practitioners, not just through the Department of Agriculture (DA), but also through other government agencies whose projects will directly and indirectly affect farmers and the agriculture industry.
In the Philippines, farming has, for far too long, been associated with struggle and survival. If we want to keep the industry from further shrinking, there must be an assurance that people who choose to go into it or stay in it will have the chance to thrive. Otherwise, expect more stories about farmers leaving the fields to be framed under “feel good” and “success” stories instead of what they really mean: The slow death of the Philippine agriculture industry.