Philippine agriculture is in the grip of a silent crisis:  Recent studies show that the average of farmers are nearing 60 as more and more young people abandon farms to seek work elsewhere.  

However, this doesn’t apply to the Quemado brothers, Edsel James, 21, and Numeriano, 20, who are both farmers in Malaybalay City. Even at their young age, they are betting that farming is their way out from poverty.

The Quemado brothers were among the latest graduates of Digital Farmers Program (DFP)—a joint project of the Agricultural Training Institute (ATI) of Department of Agriculture (DA), Probe Media Foundation and PLDT subsidiary Smart Communications, Inc. (Smart).

Having graduated with a degree in agriculture, Numeriano has been focused on using technology to raise his farming skills.  And that includes inspiring other farmers, too. “Technology has been our tool in marketing our farm products and with DFP, I learned about creating farming videos,” he shared.

“This could help us raise awareness among our co-farmers about e-commerce, so they could sell their products directly to the consumers- giving them a good profit in return,” Numeriano added.

Empower farmers through technology

The DFP aims to empower small-scale farmers nationwide through digital technologies.  With the help of youth volunteers, Smart aims to empower small-scale farmers through DFP’s ladderized education approach. The first phase involves familiarizing them with smartphone features, android capabilities, social media platforms, search engines, messaging channels, and internet safety. Farmers will also be trained on phonetography—knowledge on basic photo and videography skills to develop local agri-related contents; which will be accompanied with production, interviewing, writing, and editing skills workshops.

Trainees will be tutored on mobile agriculture and financial services—3rd party farming apps, mobile e-money, micro credit, and more. The final phase will involve training on digital entrepreneurship, Internet of Things (IoT), content development modules, and advance Internet safety, such as data privacy. 

In Region 10, Malaybalay City and El Salvador City are the first beneficiaries of the program, currently on its first phase, where most of the trainees were teachers and soldiers.

Aside from working in the Philippine army, Justice Dela Torre, 39, is also an active farmer. Joining the DFP has opened his eyes on how effective digital tools and social media are in enhancing their capabilities as farmers. “I think farming is evolving, so we must not neglect using new technologies to avoid getting left behind,” he said.

“As a soldier, I am going to propagate all the take-aways I have gained in this training to my fellow soldiers and farm technicians who work in hinterlands and at the same time, teach indigenous communities about digital farming,” Dela Torre detailed.

Stimulate interest in agriculture

Public teacher Junah Bayag has been balancing between farming and teaching for eight years now. Since farming requires significant attention, he decided to hire people to work with him. However, the regular changing of workforce has been a challenge, primarily due to employees’ shallow interest in farming.

What keeps the 42-year-old going is his belief that farming is more of an advocacy, rather than a business. He said that what he learned about in DFP about basic videography will certainly appeal to potential farmers of the new generation. “The agriculture industry here in Bukidnon is very rich and we aim to preserve it. Hopefully, the latest technologies taught in DFP will interest the youth and instill in them a love for farming,” Bayag added.

See farming under a new light

“We are happy to have this partnership with DA-ATI and Probe Media Foundation in promoting digital farming among Filipinos,” said Darwin F. Flores, Vice President for Community Partnerships at Smart. “We hope that this advocacy could reach to more farmers and move them to appreciate the importance of digital tools in farming.”

“By seeing farming under a new light, we wish that younger people would be inspired to take on it as a profession, as it will save our country’s agriculture industry and ensure that Filipinos will be fed for years to come,” Flores added.