The agriculture industry is getting desperate, and rightly so. It’s been suffering for decades, with more people giving up, less people entering the industry, and only the very successful, optimistic, or desperate staying behind.
This desperation, particularly in attracting young people to consider agricultural work as a career, is quite palpable, and has begun to express itself in interesting ways, most notably in trying to use the youth’s language and interest to entice them to work in agriculture.
Unfortunately, instead of actually attracting young people, efforts like these tend to give out “How do you do, fellow kids” energy. There’s a call to make agriculture “sexy” to get more young people to work in it, and this is often done through influencers or social media campaigns that glamorize farm life.
But any practitioner knows that agricultural work is rarely sexy. Behind those shots of a lush field or a farmer enjoying a cup of coffee before work is hours upon hours of hard labor. And that’s just having to do with the farm itself. There’s also the hours upon hours of paperwork and having to deal with various people, especially if one is intent on running one’s farm like a business.
In this case, making agriculture work (be it in the field, sea, laboratory, office, etc.) look glamorous without context could be considered misleading. For example, making a beauty queen pose in the middle of a field with the intent of making the industry look glamorous doesn’t say anything about the hardships and inequality many industry practitioners face on a daily basis. It’s quite disingenuous to outsiders and frankly, quite insulting to practitioners who know the truth about the industry, particularly the marginalized.
However, one cannot deny the power of a good marketing campaign, and I feel that this is important in popularizing any endeavor.
For example, social media can be a free, highly effective way to market one’s farm business, whether it be one’s produce, value-added products, or farm tourism site. This is where social media’s tendency to amplify one’s best really shines. This is where it is imperative that one showcase one’s good side most of the time, with just enough blooper reels or behind the scenes to remind viewers that there’s a human being behind the account.
Customers particularly love it when creators tell stories about their lives, which can include “a day in the life” reels or even how produce gets from the field to fork. Sometimes, posting about the tough times a farm is going through, such as after a typhoon, for example, can help educate customers on the challenge of running a farm and can help them appreciate both the farmer and the food on their plates more. Most people tend to want to help, and thus, the proper mix of posts about a farm’s success and challenges can make already loyal customers support a farm even more.
One doesn’t even need to be an influencer to do this. In this case, one’s farm or product is the personality, and this can be a successful way of introducing one’s farm, crop, or product and keeping clientele.
But beyond gaining customers, one would be hard-pressed to prove that showing only a highly glamorized side of agriculture is an effective way to encourage young people to join the industry. If we really want to use the youth’s language to encourage them to find a lasting career in agriculture, we have to speak to their concerns. Many young people long for a job that allows them to thrive, and they want careers that will insulate them from the increasing financial uncertainty being experienced on a global scale.
By “insulate them from the increasing financial uncertainty,” I don’t just mean three meals a day. The prevalent thinking that farmers should be okay with just breaking even is anti-poor and will definitely keep the industry in the doldrums. What I mean is that working in the industry should gain the reputation of being able to become at least (at least!!!) middle class. It should guarantee a fair and stable income and fair and consistent institutional support.
I’ve said it before and I think it bears repeating: how are we supposed to entice young people to go into agriculture when they see industry veterans experience nothing but suffering? I assure you, the assurance of a good life, even if it involves hard work, is a far more effective way of attracting new blood into a stagnating industry than all of the influencer photos in the world.
It’s time we did away with the “the Filipino agricultural worker is resilient” narrative. It’s tiring and puts the onus on the survivors instead of the institutions that have failed them. It’s time we focused on figuring out how to make “the Filipino agricultural worker thrives” a thing because not only is it what the youth is clamoring for now, it’s also what we as humans should deserve.