Making agriculture sexy
We have to make farming sexy,” asserts Emmanuel Ansah-Amprofi from Ghana, quoted in a New York Times article last week. A former immigration lawyer-turned-farmer, he is among a growing number of young, college-educated Africans out to show that agriculture can be exciting and profitable, and not the poor man’s profession it is commonly known to be.
“As in much of the rest of the continent, Ghana’s farmers are aging, even as young people pour into cities in search of jobs amid skyrocketing youth unemployment,” the article continues. “Rolling up sleeves and bucking convention, some young farmers have left behind cushy jobs… They often have little more training on how to rear chicks and till soil than from YouTube videos. But underscoring their work is a sense that what’s at stake is Africa’s economic future.”
Sound all too familiar? Like in Africa and elsewhere, farmers in the Philippines are aging, and there’s an urgent need to draw young people to agriculture if the country’s food security is to be assured well into the future. Last September, Tagaytay City hosted the Leaders and Entrepreneurs in Agriculture Forum (LEAF), which brought together local and international champions of agriculture and entrepreneurship to discuss how to redefine and revitalize Philippine agriculture. There appears to be a common sentiment that government has failed the sector with decades of faulty policies, misplaced priorities and dubious motivations, with corruption a perennial issue.
In Ghana, the government has rolled out an ambitious national initiative to raise agricultural productivity and entice young people back to the farm. Augustine Collins Ntim, the deputy minister for local government and rural development, spoke of his travels to the United States and Europe, where he observed farmers to be well-to-do, and viewed with honor and respect. The same New York Times article quotes him: “You come back home in Ghana, (where) our farmers are living in abject poverty. The gap was political commitment and leadership.”
The LEAF participants believe that Filipino youth can take it upon themselves to make agriculture “more sexy.” The conference highlighted three key areas that young Filipinos can work on to achieve this: agripreneurship, agritech and farm tourism.
The first is about turning farmers into entrepreneurs who can engage in value-adding and take more meaningful part in their value chains, rather than be content with selling their raw produce right upon harvest. The second is about maximizing the application of beneficial technology in the farming enterprise, referring to both production and information technologies. The third is about sparking much wider public interest in agriculture by making farms much more than places for production, but places for public learning and recreation as well.
The second, agritech, is especially of interest for the current young generation of “digital natives” who were born in the age of the internet, also known as “Gen Z.” In Ghana, Ansah-Amprofi, apart from growing a variety of fruits and vegetables, also helped launch Trotro Tractor, an app that lets farmers locate and rent shareable tractors, much like how Uber and Grab make city transport easy via ride-sharing.
In the Philippines, young Paolo Delgado, scion of the Delgado Brothers business group, is promoting urban vertical farming via soilless agriculture, using the technology of aeroponics in a company he founded called Good Greens + Co. “With inevitable land conversion diminishing our arable farm lands, we need not compromise our food security if we harness the right technologies to sustain agricultural production,” he told me. He is out to show that city dwellers can produce ample food, with savings in transport and logistics costs making up for whatever additional costs the soilless technology entails.
Meanwhile, Vinci Roxas, Dexter Andrada and Joren Alcasabas are among the young people I know who are applying information technology to make small farming profitable via wider access to finance and improved value chain organization.
There’s a future in agriculture, after all, and I’m glad young people are catching on to it.
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