When becoming an influencer is more important than making a difference

(Binyamin Mellish/Pexels)

Once in a while, a brash, usually young, thing will burst onto the scene brimming with money, confidence, and sometimes even an actual business plan who believes that they and only they can solve the problems of the Philippine agriculture industry. They’re super confident, even though they usually have no experience in agriculture, but they’ve never been corrected their entire lives, either by guardians or peers, so of course they think they’re geniuses. They have a grand plan to bring Philippine agriculture into the 21st century, making it sexy to become a farmer.

(Binyamin Mellish/Pexels)

To be fair, people like this show up in every industry. And once in a while, they actually fulfill their goal. But the chances of this happening is higher in areas where shock and awe can be an important factor to success, such as art or fashion. But in industries where a keen business sense and a willingness to work hard and get one’s hands dirty (literally and figuratively) while dealing with loneliness and playing nice with everyone is integral, big ideas and even bigger attitudes aren’t enough.

Industry veterans can spot such people a mile away. They’re more interested in being seen by the right people than lending support to a floundering industry. It is more important to them that they are praised as agriculture’s savior than actually using their influence and privilege to improve the industry and better the working conditions of the many small and subsistence farmers in the Philippines. They usually think of the industry’s problems as one blob instead of a series of interconnected problems, many of which are rooted in systemic practices. Oftentimes, they also think of the causes and solutions of these problems in a very simplistic way, such as “get rid of all middlemen” and “make tomato sauce out of excess tomatoes.” They tend to disregard the wants, needs, and experiences of industry practitioners, particularly small and marginalized farmers, in favor of flashier “experts” who may or may not have actual experience in agriculture themselves.

They are so keen to have others think of them as influencers or thought leaders that they pick an industry that is doing so poorly they think it has a low barrier of entry, only to realize that instead of being an easy sell where they can swoop in and save the day, they are trapped in a quagmire so dirty (figuratively, but also literally) and messy and whose problems are so wide-reaching and intertwined with so many other industries that even the most well-meaning players are sometimes forced to give up.

My farmer friends have many stories of encounters with such folk, and they’ve noticed a few things about them: they’re usually quick to stereotype other people who work in the industry. For example, just because a farmer looks young (Asian don’t raisin), they don’t know anything. Or just because a farmer is female, she must be a beginner or is only into it as a hobby. My friends have learned to just smile and keep quiet—their track records speak for themselves—but rest assured that they’ll be talking about it later, and passing names along besides. Yes, farmers can be quite the Maritess.

Most of the time, people like this, people who begin with valuing reputation over actual results end up in one of two ways: they either quit out of frustration, saying that the industry is too hard-headed for its own good (they’re geniuses so it’s never their fault); or they are humbled by the realities of working in agriculture but are still determined to make it work so they find their niche and either survive, which is okay, or thrive, which is also okay.

But there is an even smaller demographic, one of them insidious, one of them the ideal. Once in a while, someone will learn to game the system so well that they manage to gain influence while doing absolutely nothing. And though rarer, once in a while, someone will have both the industriousness and savvy to both make a positive impact in the industry while using their influence to help and inspire others. We can never have enough of the latter, even though they are sadly few and far between.

It’s a messy world we live in, and it’s hard enough making a living in agriculture without having to second guess the intentions of every wannabe influencer that comes along, but I believe that discernment is important. Yes, people who are more style than substance appear in all industries, but it’s even more imperative that they be identified in agriculture because the impact is so far-reaching. Humans like to find things to worship, but as history has proven time and again, true progress happens when we stop pinning all our hopes and dreams on one person and do the work ourselves.

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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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