With an increasing lack of interest in agriculture, young people somehow still have the stereotype when it comes to “working in the land”: they don’t see a future in the agriculture. Studies have shown that the average age of farmers in the Philippines is 57 years old. As a solution, various agricultural and rural development departments,  push through with providing agricultural programs to pique the interest of the youth and further their exploration in agriculture. Among them in providing various forums and training to its supported Agrarian Reform Beneficiary Organizations (ARBOs) and farmers about Youth empowerment and inclusion in Agri-farming is the  Project Convergence on Value Chain Enhancement for Rural Growth and Empowerment (Project ConVERGE).

Dexter Balansag, now 30 years old residing from Brgy. Tubod, Tampilisan, in the province of Zamboanga del Norte, fulfills his passion in agriculture by pursuing rubber farming.

A young beneficiary

Dexter has been a beneficiary of Project ConVERGE for the past 3 years. He was initially an enumerator for beneficiary profiling of their cooperative, the Cabong Tampilisan Multi-Purpose Cooperative (CATAMCO). Being an enumerator and a farmer at the same time, Dexter was trained on how to gather profiles of beneficiaries and farming techniques by the Project itself.

“When I was initially an enumerator, a lot of trainings were conducted by the project,” he said.

“Once I became a member, I was trained both in being an enumerator and a farmer. All of them were so useful, I adapted it in my farming routine.”

Having started at the age of 11, he took rubber farming as one of his main sources of income and was encouraged to do it more because of the Project’s support at present. “Not only were we provided training, but we were also provided with the necessary equipment to go with it. It encouraged me to follow what they taught us and apply it in my rubber farming.

“In this place where rubber is one of the easy-to-access sources, I started farming because I knew that this could help me in the long run. This could be one of my sources of income.” He added.

In his current rubber farm, Dexter is able to produce 200 kilos of rubber cup lumps monthly to be consolidated by their cooperative and sold to the market, amounting to a total of 2,000 PHP earned every month. He also has planted new rubber trees that would be ready for harvest in the next years to come. Even with this, Dexter perseveres in farming rubber cup lumps for it has always been a trusted source of income for him and his family. He also wants the other young rubber farmers in their community to pursue it too.

“As I grew up, I was always encouraged by my parents that rubber farming could help me with my needs. That is why, I endured planting rubber trees so that I can reap its harvest when the time comes.” He answered when asked about the reason why he pursues rubber farming.

“Rubber has always been a very big commodity, and Mindanao is well known for its best rubber production. It has always interested me how we could earn farming rubber cup lumps for a living.” He added.

A young farmer’s insight

He also has addressed the current problem of dwindling cases of youth interested in agriculture in their area. But he has chosen to not be one of them, as he is currently proud of managing his farm, and settle to stay and enjoy the farming life with his family. “I know people may think that it’s better to experience city life and find jobs there, but I figured that I could have my own job here and be proud of the resources that we have as well.”

He addresses the stigma of the youth unappreciative of the work of farmers and agriculture itself. “A lot of young people in this area are so adamant in pursuing the city life and what it has to offer, and that’s fine. But I hope that they wouldn’t just turn a blind eye on what is currently in front of them.” He says. “It seems like the youth think that you get nothing in Agriculture, but you do get something. You get knowledge, and when you do get it, that’s when you get to appreciate everything else.”

That is why he appreciates every training he got to have with Project ConVERGE, and the initiative of all other agencies to promote youth participation in agriculture. “And they don’t just initiate age-old tactics, but they introduce innovative ideas for farming that not only help the farmers but piques their interest as well. In this tech-generation, Agriculture is also making its innovative ways known through the use of different schemes to expand its roots and market”, he shared.

Dexter encourages his fellow youth in agriculture to have their horizons expanded, as he believes one must take on the challenge of what is currently laid down for them where they are. “I believe the youth, whether they are in the farms or the city, should widen their mindset about farming or agriculture in general. And to my fellow rubber farmers in this area, I hope they could encourage the young to have knowledge in farming as this could really help them.”

“Learning the essence of agriculture has become easier now due to the support of various agencies and projects like Project ConVERGE provide. All of these just to preserve its essence, and I am proud and thankful for all the training I have received.”

Agriculture may still have its fair share of stigmas surrounding it, but it cannot be denied that in these past years, it has started to take off to new heights, more innovative than ever before. It wouldn’t take too long for others to have their interests piqued, because at the end of the day, no matter what all of us do, everything is connected to its roots. (Jullienne Veronica F. Tuazon)