A new breed of Filipino farmers will be the catalysts in improving the “dire” condition of the local agriculture industry, Manila Economic and Cultural Office (MECO) Resident Representative Wilfredo Fernandez said this week.
Fernandez, in an online gathering, welcomed the 29 tillers who arrived in Taiwan to undergo an internship program to learn the latest technology in agriculture from Taiwanese farming experts.
They will spend 11 months in the country and will be the model for the next batches of interns.
During the opening of the week-long orientation program for the “Filipino Young Farmers Internship Program in Taiwan,” organized by the Council of Agriculture (CoA) of Taiwan, MECO, and the Taipei Economic and Cultural Office (TECO) in the Philippines, Fernandez said that he expects the internship program to encourage budding agriculture entrepreneurs who embrace technology for growth.
“The training program seeks to empower the interns with technologically advanced skills through training in agricultural techniques, exposure to evolving marketing strategies and mechanisms, and enhancement of competencies, discipline, and values,” Fernandez said.
Pillars of progress
Originally, 51 youth farmers were to be part of the contingent. The number was trimmed down to 29, however, after a carefully vetted selection process.
“Your being here is, therefore, providential, inasmuch as it is a choice. Each of you has a special role to play to turn a distressed industry into a pillar of progress. I am, of course, referring to the agricultural industry in the Philippines, debilitated by long years of neglect, as lands we used to till are gradually converted into concrete structures — robbing future generations of that chance to ‘find gold’ in farming, and thus endangering food security,” Fernandez stated.
The MECO head noted that the Philippine population is burgeoning “at around 130 million, yet our arable lands are diminishing”.
He then contrasted agriculture productivity and sustainability with the rising food demand, explaining that supply can’t cope, thus resulting in the need to import agricultural products.
Fernandez also noted that the pandemic has taught the Philippines an inconvenient lesson — that the borders could close for months during which ensuring food self-sufficiency becomes an imperative.
Quality of food diminished
“Not only that, the quality of our farm produce has evidently deteriorated over the years. Our atis for example already looks and tastes inferior to the sugar apples of Taiwan. And the pineapple is already as sweet as the ones from the Philippines. What used to be the center of rice research that is the Philippines is now battered by rice coming from other countries. Theirs is even more delicious than ours,” he stated.
The Philippines in 2020 recorded its highest rice production level at 19.44 million metric tons (MT), surpassing the highest rice production in 2019 of 18.81 million MT, and the 19.07 million MT recorded in 2018, based on data from the Philippine Statistics Authority.
Your being here is, therefore, providential, inasmuch as it is a choice.
For Fernandez, the immersion in Taiwan will be an opportunity for the young farmers to assimilate advanced practices of Taiwanese tillers and for them to apply these when they return home “to help turn around what is considered a sunset industry into a bright spot of tomorrow.”
“Hopefully, (all of you could) revive a struggling agricultural sector, thereby ensuring stable food supply for the coming generations, and bequeathing them the technical knowledge and expertise, which could be harnessed beyond their lifetime,” Fernandez said.
He challenged the 29 young Filipino farmers to start a revolution that will refocus “on agriculture as a strong foundation of a truly free country — a country that could grow, not only its population but also its capacity to feed itself.”
High hopes raised
For his part, TECO Representative Peiyung Hsu stressed that the endeavor is one of the milestone agricultural cooperation projects between Taiwan and the Philippines.
“On behalf of the Taipei Economic and Cultural Office in the Philippines, I would like to thank Chairman (Wilfredo) Fernandez. Without your staunch support and joint effort, this program would never be possible,” Hsu said.
The envoy also sent his recognitions to CoA Minister Dr. Chih-Chun Chen and his team, “particularly for their endless efforts to obtain the special entry permit for Filipino interns while Taiwan’s border remains closed to foreign nationals due to the Covid-19 pandemic.”