Now that the K to 12 program is gaining momentum, teachers who handle agriculture-related subjects may have to level up in nurturing the future workforce that will propel the agriculture sector.

By Sonny P. Pasiona
Photos by Jayson Berto and Carlo Dacumos

A recent industry summit organized by the Department of Education gathered over 200 school representatives—mostly principals—to share knowledge, get updates, and pick up best practices relative to the implementation of the senior high school (SHS) Program.

In a session representing the Department of Agriculture as a related agency, Jaime A. Manalo IV of the Philippine Rice Research Institute (PhilRice) presented results from studies on the Infomediary Campaign, PhilRice’s youth engagement initiative in agriculture.

The campaign uses the school as the nucleus of agricultural extension. Students serve as “infomediaries” who facilitate access to information on cost-reducing and yield-enhancing technologies on rice. Other than reading materials, they also access information through the Pinoy Rice Knowledge Bank and the PhilRice Text Center, an SMS-based consultation services for farmers.

Increasing Enrollment

Agriculture remains as one of the less ‘cool and sexy’ career paths, as evidenced by low enrollment figures. One can easily argue that it is not a lucrative profession, and it suffers from the perception that anyone who goes into it will end up being ‘just’ a farmer. Manalo, project leader of the Infomedairy Campaign, recommended the following strategies to address this mindset:

1. Know your target
A 2013 study of Manalo and Elske van de Fliert showed that some reasons behind rural Filipino youth’s outmigration from agricultural communities include the “attachment” of poverty to agriculture, parental influence, and the youths’ disinterest in farm chores. “Agriculture has an emotional, not just academic, dimension,” Manalo asserted, adding that aside from the hardcore technical lessons, SHS teachers should also highlight the importance of agriculture in Philippine society.

2. Promote agriculture as a viable and versatile career option
Agriculture is not just about tilling the soil. One does not even have to be an agriculturist to contribute to this industry. Agriculture also needs entrepreneurs, economists, sociologists, and agricultural journalists, among others.

If educators are able to promote agriculture as a viable and versatile career option, they may do well in encouraging high school students to take agriculture and related sciences as their course in college.

Manalo and his team have documented a significant increase in agri-related tracks of those who participated in the Infomediary Campaign, which now operates in over 200 secondary schools. “For instance, in Maguling National High School in Sarangani, there were only 37 students interested in agriculture courses before we launched the campaign. After the key campaign activities, that number increased to 108.”

3. Engage parents
Engaging the students’ parents is also another way to influence the youth to pursue careers in agriculture. TeknoKliniks, under Infomediary, gathers parents to give them a venue to discuss and ask questions about rice production technologies.

“The parents should know what’s going on in the schools. We feel that we need to engage them so they, too, will know how they can benefit from this undertaking,” said Manalo.

He added that the parents should know that there is money in agriculture. Agripreneurship (agriculture-related entrepreneurship) is something they should learn about.

An agriculturist discusses rice pests and damage assessment at the Corazon C. Aquino High School in Gerona, Tarlac.

Making Farming Sexy
Operating for almost four years now, the Infomediary Campaign recently launched a book on Youth & Agriculture that documents how-to’s and strategies for engaging young people in agriculture. Some of its best-fit practices are listed below.

1. Schedule practical activities in the early morning or late afternoon
It is recommended that practical activities on agriculture subjects be done in the early morning or late afternoon. “Primarily, this is to avoid the scorching heat of the sun. In the afternoon, students don’t mind getting dirty as they will just head home afterwards,” Manalo explained.

2. Integrate ‘edutainment’ into teaching
Entertaining educational methods are preferred by students. This includes field tours or exposure trips, agri-games, and training on the basics of farming. Experiential learning can also be facilitated by establishing a rice garden that can give students hands-on experience in farming right in their schools. Supervised by their teachers, students can gain confidence in their ability to serve as infomediaries who can share their learnings with their parents and other farmers in their communities.

3. Relate agriculture to the community
Manalo also recommended that agriculture be related to wider applications in the community. “In our sites in Davao Oriental and Occidental Mindoro, the students enjoyed farm chores as they saw how these relate to their community. The students later on ended up doing an outreach activity to promote cost-reducing and yield-enhancing technologies on rice.”

4. Use effective learning tools and strategies
A recent study of the Infomediary team also revealed that learning tools and strategies matter in effectively teaching climate smart agriculture. Field work and the use of videos, pictures, the internet, flipcharts, and PowerPoint presentations are favored by the students. “There are really no silver bullets, no easy answers on how to [interest] young people [in] agriculture-related courses. The thing is, we can, and should always, try,” Manalo concluded.

Visit www.infomediary4d.com for more details and to download teaching materials for free.

This story appeared in Agriculture Monthly’s January 2017 issue.