Study affirms rural reality: Farmers don’t wish same hard life for kids
MANILA, Philippines — The majority of the country’s rice farmers do not want their children to grow up having the same occupation as theirs and would rather see them earning a college education to find employment in urban areas or overseas, according to a recent study.
Of the 923 farmers surveyed, around 65 percent believe their children ”would not have any future” tilling the land and that such a means of earning a living would only be ”considered the last resort,” said the paper titled “Aging Filipino Rice Farmers and Their Aspirations for Their Children.”
The study was conducted by Florencia Palis, a professor from the University of the Philippines Los Baños. It appeared in the June issue of Philippine Journal of Science, a quarterly publication of the Science and Technology Information Institute of the Department of Science and Technology.
“Instead, parent farmers dream that their children will have nonfarm jobs, either in urban areas or abroad, to have a higher and more stable income and to get out of poverty,” it noted.
Palis also noted that the average age of Filipino farmers today is 53 years old, from only 46 in 1966. Most of them have been working on the farm for 25 years.
The survey was conducted among farming households from 2009 to 2012, with the respondents randomly selected in three provinces representing the country’s major island groupings: Isabela in Luzon, Iloilo in the Visayas, and Agusan del Norte in Mindanao.
The survey was complemented with in-depth interviews and focus group discussions designed to come up with a better understanding of the plight of Filipino farmers. Further interviews with some of the respondents — particularly in Agusan del Norte — were conducted in 2013 and 2018.
Trapped in a cycle
According to Palis, Filipino rice farmers remain trapped in a cycle of indebtedness as most of them lack the capital needed to start a planting season. Almost all of them borrow money from informal lenders who would charge them on a 20-percent monthly interest. During the harvest season, the bulk of their earnings selling palay would therefore just go to paying off their debts.
The study quoted one farmer as saying: “It takes long working days and yet the returns I get from rice farming is not even enough for the needs of my family, (who) until now remains poor.”
Citing previous studies, Palis said local farmers continued to be faced with uncertainty in terms of yield and income due unpredictable weather, pests and plant diseases, and unstable market forces.
The lack of genuine agrarian reform also dissuades farmer parents from wishing the same life for their children. Leaseholders, for example, worry that the land they work today could be taken back anytime by the owners. “With no land of his own, his children will inherit nothing even if he works hard on the leased farm. Hence, leaseholder farmers prefer nonfarming occupations for their children,” Palis said.
Palis urged the government and agricultural institutions to formulate policies and strategies that can motivate the next generation to take up farming and help the country achieve food self-sufficiency.
“Instead of spending so much on rice importation, investing in price support to assist Filipino rice farmers to increase their local production and income could be considered,” she noted.