Agriculture should be treated as an industry, not as welfare

Photo by Karolina Grabowska from Pexels

Agriculture industry. This is the name we call everything that falls under the terms “agriculture,” which, contrary to popular misconception, isn’t just about planting and harvesting. Agriculture work isn’t limited to farming, but that’s for another column.

Everyone has heard of the Chinese proverb that goes, “Give a man a fish and you feed him for a day, teach a man to fish and you feed him for life.”

While this sounds neat and wise, it’s actually not very accurate, and does more for the teacher’s ego than the needs of the hungry person.

This is because, to continue using the proverb’s imagery, the person will need more than just knowledge to be able to fish. They’ll need equipment and they’ll need support. By equipment and support, I don’t mean a tree branch, some rope, and a scrounged up earthworm, nor do I mean a state-of-the-art geosat guided fishing trawler. I mean just the right kind of good quality equipment the fisher will need to catch enough fish to feed themselves and their family and sell to a reliable client so they have funds for each member to live a full life of their choosing (working boat, whole nets or good quality fishing gear, access and mne for gas if the boat is motorized, etc), as well as the safety and security of being able to fish without harassment, whether on land or water.

“Teaching a man to fish,” or farm, depending on what kind of agriculture they’re engaged in, doesn’t start with giving them lessons and stop with them passing a test or getting a certificate they can hang on the wall. It starts beforehand: making sure their minds are free enough from worry and that their bellies are filled so they can absorb the lessons, and after, that they have proper resources after—good roads, access to clients, government and community support, and so on, for their small businesses (because a farm, no matter how small, is still a business) to have the potential to grow.

Photo by Karolina Grabowska from Pexels

If we truly want the agriculture industry to succeed, we have to step away from the mindset of “help the farmer” by way of welfare, which has been reduced to a marketing come-on, especially during the pandemic, and move towards a mindset of “support the small farmer” by way of industry.

Again, by “support,” I don’t mean allowing them just enough resources so they have just enough to survive but to expose them to every opportunity for their farm and each member of their family and community to thrive. I used the term “allow” on purpose, because so many farmers are deliberately kept in debt, whether by design or circumstance, so they are forced to survive. These same farmers, knowing nothing but hardship, will naturally and rightfully not want their children to suffer the same fate, and this has led to the continuous decline of agricultural practitioners in the country.

In line with this is the need to step away from the prevailing mindset of the “resilience” as something to be proud of and instead aim for “thriving” instead. When we allow a whole industry to languish under a romanticized notion of resiliency, the people involved well, languish.

The mark of a progressive nation is a thriving citizenry. It is a populace whose lives aren’t consumed by just trying not to die.

These ideas are easy to write but harder to practice because more than the required long term coordination from government and private agencies, it also requires a change of mindset from an entire nation.

Julius Barcelona of Harbest Agribusiness put it very well: Agriculture should be treated as an industry, not as welfare. So instead of “helping the farmer” by buying savvily marketed goods and treating it in our minds like an act of charity, which is, honestly, what a lot of people do, we should be supporting the farmer by providing them with not just seeds and some machinery (which the government already does), but in more small business-oriented ways such as more agency to decide what they need for themselves, access to good infrastructure and reliable markets, access to education on how to run a small business, more specialized government support for agribusinesses, and mechanization in a way that suits the farmers’ lifestyle and not the other way around.

If we want to revive our steadily declining agriculture industry, we have to stop thinking of the people who work in it as charity cases and instead support them as small businesses, not just during planting and harvesting, but from business planning to after sales service.

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Yvette Tan
Yvette Tan is Agriculture magazine's managing editor’s web editor. She is an award-winning writer who likes to eat, travel, and listen to stories about the strange and supernatural. She is dedicated to encouraging people to push for sustainable food sources and is an advocate of food security, food sovereignty, and the preservation of community foodways.

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