Like Pinoys, young SE Asians shun agriculture as a career

  • 10 November 2014, Monday

Source: The Philippine Star
9 Nov 2014

Like their Filipino counterparts, younger-generation Southeast Asians continue to shun agriculture as a career and a means of livelihood. In search of the proverbial “greener pasture”, they flock to the cities and centers of population for white collar jobs that do not soil their hands. 

As to college education, they now shy away from Agriculture and choose other professions that earn them more income and with relatively less strenuous exertions.             

Discouragingly, this phenomenon has set in Southeast Asia’s top agriculture countries.


This is happening in Thailand which has been the world’s major net exporter of agricultural products for more than 150 years.

Until today, it has remained the major exporter of rice (still the world’s top rice exporter) rubber, and maize.

It has also acquired  comparative advantages in the export of fruits, vegetables, and processed foods.             

But since 1989, or a quarter of a century ago, most young people have  left the farm sector, reported a Thai economist, Dr. Nipon Poapongsakorn, formerly a research director, vice president, and senior consultant at the Thailand Development Research Institute and dean of the Thammasat University-Faculty of Economics.              

“The massive movement of young workers out of agriculture has had profound impact on agricultural production,” said Dr. Nipon in his country report for the Southeast Asian Agriculture and Development Prime Series: Thailand being published by the Philippine government-hosted, Los Baños-based Southeast Asian Regional Center for Graduate Study and Research in Agriculture (SEARCA).                

Dr. Nipon, who holds a doctorate (PhD) in Economics from the University of Hawaii, also projected: “The aging of the agriculture workforce would have profound implications in the Thai agriculture and on the future system of elderly support.”                 

Despite this phenomenon, he said, Thai farmers have responded in two ways:              

 • They employed foreign migrants, estimated at about 0.4 million. Most foreign workers in Thailand are found in the fishing industry and in field crop (rubber tree tapping) and livestock farms.                

• Farmers mechanized some farm activities.                 

“The exodus of young rural workers has led to a different pattern of farm mechanization since the late 1980s,” the Thai economist said. “Now, only a few farms in remote areas still use buffalo.”                

Dr. Nipon further noted that a new class of professional farmers has emerged: those who adopt science-based agricultural production – small contract farmers who grow safe vegetables and fruits for exports, large orchard farmers, highly intensive rice farmers, and commercial poultry raisers.


Time was when Vietnam was a net rice importer. Now, it is the world’s second largest rice exporter.                 

The transformation of Vietnam’s agricultural economy into a major rice producer could be considerably attributed to the dissemination of modern cultivation technologies of high-yielding  varieties to farmers in the Mekong Delta and the leadership of its well-educated and farmer-friendly scientists who have dedicated their lives and professions to the land tillers.                

This is exemplified by Dr. Vo Thong Xuan whose more than three decades “of dedicated and committed service toward the promotion of diversified and sustainable agriculture, particularly in rice production, through his scientific publications, extension, teaching, and input of national policies have impacted the lives of millions of Vietnamese.”                

“Dr. Xuan’s  work at the grassroots, national, and international levels in the government, private, and non-government sectors contributed immensely to the transformation of the Vietnamese agricultural economy from a net rice importer to the world’s second largest rice-exporter,” stated a citation conferred on him as recipient of the prestigious Dioscoro L. Umali award given by SEARCA, the Philippine National Academy of Science and Technology (NAST), and DLU Foundaton.                

The award – which recognizes “lifetime achievements  of exemplary individuals who have advanced agricultural development in Southeast Asia” –  is named after the late Dr. Umali, a long-time dean of the UP College of Agriculture and assistant director general for Asia and the Pacific of the United Nations-Food and Agriculture Organization  (UN-FAO).                

But like other countries undergoing various stages of development, “employment in Vietnam’s agricultural sector is declining,” observed Dr.Nguyen Tri Kiem, a noted agricultural education administrator (college dean at An Giang University; Can Tho University for 25 years, etc.)

As of 2004, he said in his report on Vietnam for the SEARCA series, there were 82 million Vietnamese, 70 percent of whom lived in the rural areas.             

“Agricultural employment was mostly composed of self-employed agricultural workers,” noted Dr. Kiem, who earned his master’s and doctorate degrees from UP Los Baños.


Indonesia is another country with remarkable agricultural economy, but whose young also are shying away from agriculture.              

This archipelagic country, according to records, achieved rice self-sufficiency in the mid-1980s after years of importing large quantities of rice to meet domestic demand.              

As former Indonesian Agriculture Minister Sharifudin Baharsjah stated when he spoke at a forum in Makati City early this year: “It (rice self-sufficiency) was accomplished by a dedicated government at all levels, supported by actively participating farmers.”              

The instrument was the Green Revolution Technology (GRT), initiated by the Noble Laureate Norman Borlaug and translated in practical term for Indonesia by noted scientist Dr. AT. Mosher.              

A very important GRT component was the superior rice varieties introduced by International Rice Research Institute (IRRI) and developed further with the Indonesia Agency for Agricultural Research and Development (IAARD).              

Dr. Baharsjah, who has also been recipient of the Umali award, acknowledged that maintaining rice self-sufficiency in Indonesia faced major challenges: growing population (238 million people as of 2010), high per capita rice consumption per year (138 kilograms), shrinking acreage of irrigated fields (50,000 ha/year), and stagnant levels of rice yield (5 tons/ha).              

Moreover, he noted, many young Indonesians are shying away from agriculture for office jobs.


In the Philippines, the continued decline of enrollment in Agriculture as a career and the migration of young people in the rural areas to the cities continue to pose a grave threat to the country’s food security, a UPLB researcher also warned.               

If agriculture becomes the least appealing career choice among today’s younger generation student, “it will undoubtedly pose serious threat in the country’s agricultural labor force and the country’s food security,” said Jesusita Coladilla.              

She cited UP Los Baños, the country’s premiere agricultural university, whose BS in Agriculture program enrollment continues to decline.              

In 1980, Coladilla recalled, 51 percent of UPLB’s enrollment was in agriculture. It went down to 41 percent in 1995 and dived to only 4.7 percent in 2012.             

“The trend is similar in other high education institutes (HEIs) in the country offering BS Agriculture program,” she added.                

What is discouraging, she further noted during a SEARCA-organized conference in Los Baños not long ago, is that “a typical farmer would not advise his children to get into agriculture for a career.”