The young scholar from the sugar sector
While the youth in agriculture is a rarity in the industry — with the average age of Filipino farmers at present is 57 to 59 according to the Department of Agriculture — there are still people, like Jonel Ybañez, 23, who are determined to revitalize the embattled sector.
Jonel is a member of Crossing Ibos Farmers Credit Cooperative (CIFCC), an organization of sugar farmers in Kabankalan, Negros Occidental. Being a son of sugarcane farmers, Jonel never dreamt of anything other than to follow his parents’ footsteps.
"Kaya napamahal din ako sa industriyang ito ay dahil bata pa lang ako, dito na sa farm ang nakasanayan ko," he said.
But the road to Jonel’s dreams faced tough adversities. Despite working in farms that produce sugar, life is not as sweet for the workers toiling in the industry.
As said by Prof. Teodoro C. Mendoza of the University of the Philippines Los Baños, College of Agriculture and Food Sciences, who has been studying the industry for decades, thousands of sugarcane farmers and workers in the country are suffering from low sugar yield, high production cost and threats of sugar liberalization.*
Scholarship from PEF
Through CIFCC, Jonel was able to study Sugar Farm Technician Training Course organized by the Sugar Industry Foundation, Inc., Sugar Regulatory Administration and the University of St. La Salle in July 2017 with the help of the Peace and Equity Foundation (PEF), an organization that helps poor Filipino communities by investing in social enterprises.
"Noong nalaman ko na may scholarship ang PEF para sa amin na nagtatrabaho sa sugar industry, naengganyo talaga ako. Nagpapasalamat talaga ako sa PEF," he said.
The training enabled Jonel to learn the new technologies in sugar farming as well as bookkeeping and basic marketing. After four months of training, he became a farm technician of CIFCC, handling 60 hectares of sugarcane farms.
As a farm technician, Jonel assists farmers by helping them manage their resources, introducing them to new techniques in agriculture to boost productivity, and overseeing if soil management, land preparation, harvesting and post-harvesting are being properly implemented.
One of the challenges faced by Jonel is the reluctance of other farmers to embrace new techniques and practices in farming.
"May mga farmers pa na ayaw pang yakapin ang mga bagong technology at practices. Kailangan kasi na mayroon din tayong ipapakitang model para gawin nila," he said.
Jonel said he remains motivated as he has a lot to offer, knowing his young age can help inject fresh ideas in the industry.
"Marami nang gustong iwan ang agriculture. Ang sa akin lang, huwag nating hayaan na magkaroon ng ganitong pananaw. Ineencourage ko din ang mga kapwa ko kabataan na mag-aral pa para sa ikauunlad ng industriya," he said.
*From the Philippine Daily Inquirer article, Multiple threats to sugar industry