DARAGA, ALBAY – The Director of Bicol University’s Extension Management Division (BU-EMD) lauded the Department of Agriculture’s (DA) initiative to engage 900 fresh graduates as frontliners to assist the government in implementing agriculture programs in each congressional district nationwide.

“Maganda yung programa, it is laudable and worthy of support. It will address our problem on the ageing population of our farmers. Just like the intention of Secretary Dar, he wants the youth to get involved in agriculture kasi nakikita nya na tumatanda na ang Filipino farmers and there’s a need for second liners, yung mga papalit. Aside from that, the success of the program might entice more of today’s youth to enroll in agriculture courses. Likewise, seeing more of agriculture graduates engaging in agri-preneurship rather than getting employed as office workers is very much possible,” Dr. Lester M. Narvaez, BU-EMD Director, said in a phone interview.

A press release dated April 24, 2020 by the DA Communications Group states that the initiative, which is connected with the Kapital Access for Young Agripreneurs (KAYA), a P1 billion financing program launched by the DA in January 2020 managed by the Agricultural Credit Policy Council’s (ACPC), has an initial P100 million budget. Under the KAYA, millennials aged 18-30 with DA-validated and approved business plans may borrow P300,000 to P500,000, payable in five years at zero interest. He or she will be given a corp of mentors composed of DA partner state universities and colleges (SUCs), non-government organizations (NGOs), and the private sector.

According to Agriculture Secretary William D. Dar, qualified individuals will be tapped as on-the-job trainees (OJTs) and would be given an “attractive” allowance. The DA will then encourage them to work and be assigned at each congressional district under the mentorship of the DA-Agricultural Program Coordinating Offices (APCOs). After their OJT stint, the DA will ask them to develop their respective agri-fishery business plans as a project in their own communities.

“We need young blood in agriculture. They have the defining attributes when it comes to utilizing modern agriculture. They are well connected through electronic devices that can help modernize farming and fishing activities,” Secretary Dar said.

An agriculturist by profession and a former trainer of agricultural technicians in the region at the Agricultural Training Institute (ATI), Narvaez seconded the Secretary’s statement saying that this can be a win-win opportunity for both the beneficiaries and universities like BU. Technology adoption is one of the indicators in the higher education institutions’ (HEIs’) and SUCs’ extension performance evaluation. Thus, Narvaez said that given the guidelines, his office is willing to participate in the program by guiding interested graduates and training them on business planning. He added that they may also provide them with technical support in establishing their demonstration projects in the community.

“Kapag naging matagumpay ang proyekto ng isang kabataang benepisyaryo ng programang ito, his success story can serve as inspiration to other farmers. The young agri-preneur should take upon himself the responsibility of radiating his success story to other farmers so that more will benefit from it. The University through its Extension office and College of Agriculture can bring students and farmers to the farm project for a learning visit. With such strategy, there is hope that more farmers would adopt new technologies in farming. Wala man financial support na makuha ang ibang magsasaka na kagaya ng nakuha ng batang benepisyaryo ay matututo sila kung paano din nila palalaguin ang kanilang sakahan. It is important that farmers should see farming as a form of business rather than as a mere subsistence livelihood. The youth as front liners and role models in agricultural development can be an inspiration to many. SUCs like BU can help as these things are within the sphere of their extension mandate,” he added.

However, he cautioned that the success of pioneer beneficiaries of this program is essential so that others will not hesitate to follow. He mentioned that HEIs may also get involved by identifying possible program beneficiaries who have the intellectual capability, proactiveness and right attitude in handling agri-entreprenurial projects. According to Narvaez, plus points should be given to applicants who are risk-takers, trainable and adept at multi-tasking.

In addition, Narvaez eyes this program as a strategy to solve the declining enrollment rate in Agriculture courses. A 2015 report from the Southeast Asian Regional Center for Graduate Study and Research in Agriculture (Searca) said that enrollment in agriculture courses dropped by 1.5 on average annually. As of June 30, 2019, the Commission on Higher Education’s (CHED) statistics on Higher Education Enrollment by Discipline Group show that 106,006 are enrolled in Agricultural, Forestry, Fisheries and Veterinary Medicine disciplines in 2018-2019 nationwide. This is higher compared to the 100,922 enrollees in the said disciplines in 2017-2018 but lower than the 127,287 enrollees in 2016-2017.

BU is a regional state and research university in Bicol region. Its College of Agriculture and Forestry (BUCAF) campus in Guinobatan, Albay offers tertiary level programs in the fields of Agriculture, Forestry, and Technical-Vocational Teacher Education. One of its graduates ranked second in the October 2019 Agricultural Engineer Board Exam. (Annielyn L. Baleza, DA RAFIS V)

Photo grabbed with permission from Dr. Lester M. Narvaez’s Facebook page

Photo credit: Al Alcantara