We need more empathy for the agriculture industry

Published September 23, 2022, 12:05 AM

by Yvette Tan

AVANT GARDENER

Yvette Tan

All gardening is an act of faith; every planting is a living prayer. — Peter Kalmus, American Scientist

We don’t give enough credit to farmers. We’re so used to the instantaneousness of buying food from the market, grocery, or restaurant that we tend to forget (or worse, not know) that they came from the field, farm, or water, and that it takes time and effort for them to get to our plates.

Many people don’t understand that “farm to table” is a luxury. Even then, the freshly harvested vegetables, processed meat, or caught fish isn’t something that magically appeared: it had to be grown and cultivated, or in the case of items that are foraged, hunted, or wild-caught, left alone until they’re of the right size and ripeness.

The reason why we at Agriculture Magazine encourage farming, but never push it, is because it can be challenging. It requires a certain mindset: the ability to withstand uncertainty (will my harvest be good this season?) The ability to bounce back from adversity and heartache (one storm can wipe out an entire planting), the ability to think on one’s feet (diseases must be caught and dealt with ASAP), patience (dealing with government agencies and systemic processes can be challenging), passion (it’s easy to get discouraged if you don’t have passion), excellent time management skills (farming can be routinary), and good business, sales, and marketing skills. A farmer isn’t just someone who plants and harvests; he or she is an entrepreneur whose basic product is born from a whole lot of uncertainty. And that’s just the actual work.

Outside of that, farmers and agricultural workers have to do an unnecessarily huge amount of emotional labor that stems from the public believing prevalent myths about an industry they know nothing about: that farming is easy, that farmers are poor, that farmers don’t deserve to get paid because they love what they do, that farmers should be treated like charity cases, that agriculture and farming only means planting and harvesting and honestly, this mental load is just as big a roadblock as the physical stressors faced by the industry.

How can mental and emotional factors be just as, if not more limiting as physical ones? Simple. Because if the majority of the population understood the specific challenges farmers and fishers faced on a daily basis, they would be a privileged class, not a marginalized one. If more people understood the need for transparency, accountability, and efficiency in the food system, they would be lobbying for better laws and processes.

What we need to further the Philippine agriculture industry is empathy. Not just the ability to see that a person is going through difficulty, but the compassion and humility to comprehend that even though their reality is different from ours, their experiences are valid and must be believed.

When farmers say that they aren’t getting paid enough, we mustn’t say, “What do you need the money for, you live in the field” (This attitude is unfortunately way more common than you think).

We must look at the many smallholders’ farmer’s hand-to-mouth existence, see that many of them would rather have their kids work in call centers than inherit the family farm, and understand that farmers need to make money. If they don’t, they’ll understandably look for work elsewhere, to the detriment of the entire nation.

We must also understand that everyone has the right to choose the life they want and not the life we think they deserve (Just because they’re farmers doesn’t mean they have to go around in a camiso chino and straw hat all the time, for example).

Behind every successful farmer are many struggling ones, and though they aren’t as fun to read about, they’re the ones who need support the most.

So even if you aren’t a farmer or fisher, or even if you have no interest in agriculture whatsoever, I implore you to take time to see beyond the stereotypes believed by the majority and understand the ways that the farmers and fishers themselves want to be supported. Cultivating empathy is a good first step and will go a long way towards supporting the agriculture industry which, if we move fast and efficiently enough, may help our nation’s food security.

 
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