Sowing Hope: Agriculture as an Alternative to Migration for Young Filipinos?

Summary of Research Findings*

Scalabrini Migration Center, Philippines
Maruja M. B. Asis, PhD

*The original, unabridged version of this paper was published on 16 March 2020 by the Scalabrini Migration Center of Manila.1

Two migrant boys in school uniforms stand on a porch in a slum in Bangalore, India
Migrant children in Bangalore, India. Globalized agriculture and climate change have radically changed the face and future of agriculture in the country, forcing millions of rural Indians to migrate to urban areas in search of alternate livelihoods.

Background and Objectives

Young Filipinos are increasingly less interested in the agriculture industry, in part due to farmers being underpaid and underappreciated. The average age for Filipino farmers is between 57 and 59 years old, which raises concerns for who will carry out the important task of farming in the coming years. There are three key trends established in the report attributed to the decline in interest of farming amongst Filipinos:

  1. The first trend identified is the Filipino population being quite young. The Philippines has a population with a median age of only 24.09 years. The level of education of these young Filipinos is much higher than that of the previous generations. Along with a higher education, young Filipinos are incredibly tech savvy when compared to their predecessors. Having a higher level of education along with a greater exposure to new technologies gives the Filipino youth a variety of options to consider when making career decisions.

  2. The second trend away from agriculture is due to a decrease in its contribution to the overall gross domestic product (GDP) of the Philippines. The report stated that while agriculture accounts for the smallest share of GDP at only 9.4 percent, over half of the population still live in rural areas. The potential for agriculture is strong, however it continues to decline over the years. Along with a decline in productivity, farmers are faced with a decline in their quality of life. The jobs available in the agriculture trade are requiring less skill and are resulting in lower productivity thus making them unappealing. Again, the average age of farmers is between 57 to 59 years old, which establishes that the Filipino youth are searching for opportunity beyond agriculture.

  3. The final trend is the problem of mass migration of young people from the Philippines. It is important to note that those who are young and have a higher level of education are more likely to want to migrate, which is consistent with the young Filipino population. Another problem with youth Filipinos migrating is that they have been found to be concentrated in low-skilled and vulnerable occupations regardless of their high educational backgrounds.

The report points out two global trends in relation to their research: an increased interest in migration and the average age of farmers. Young people around the world are increasingly interested in migrating. Data from the United Nations (UN) showed an increase of 105.2 million in the estimated stock of international migrants from 1990 to 2017. Along with this, the average age of farmers is increasing, raising the concern of generational succession around the world. Japan, Korea, and the United States all have farmers with a higher average age than in the Philippines.

Keeping these concerns in mind, the agricultural sector still has the potential for growth in employment and youth participation. The focus of the research was to evaluate youth agricultural programs in the Philippines and to explore the possibility of agriculture becoming an alternative to international migration. The report established three main goals of the research: (1) survey programs established to attract or retain youth participation in agriculture; (2) examine how the programs created opportunities for youth participation and document examples of young people involved in agriculture; and (3) conduct activities to add to policymaking, curriculum development, and training programs for young people.


Research was conducted in a qualitative approach, while materials and data were taken from the literature and collection of primary data. The report states that a review of literature, policies, and data regarding the agriculture sector of the Philippines was completed to position young Filipinos historically and respectively within the sector. Case studies were then conducted on ten Filipino programs to encourage youth participation in agriculture. The goal of the case study was to establish an understanding of how these programs promote youth involvement in agriculture.

The information on programs targeting young people was obtained via online search, review of the literature, and consultations with stakeholders in agriculture. The Agricultural Training Institute (ATI) was consulted for information on government programs for youth, such as the 4-H Club of the Philippines. Case studies were conducted from July 2018 to January 2019 involving 21 interviews with key informants and 14 group interviews. Participants ranged from young Filipino farmers, local and national officers of the 4-H Clubs, officials and personnel from the Department of Agriculture and ATI, students of agriculture, participants of agriculture training programs, founders of agricultural initiatives, and staff and partners of relevant organizations.

Situating the Filipino Youth in Agriculture

Retreat from Agriculture

Several findings have indicated a great decline in interest for agriculture in the Philippines. According to the report, the 2015 Census of Population showed that 51.2 percent of Filipino people reside in rural areas and a third of those living rurally are in poverty. The highest poverty incidence includes that of farmers, fisherman, and children from low-income families. In relation to poverty in rural areas, the service sector now has more workers than in agriculture making it the largest sector in the Philippines. The Labor Force Survey presented data that showed a decline in 163,000 farm workers in 2012 which then worsened to 803,000 leaving agriculture in 2017. Enrollment in higher education for agricultural studies is also declining amongst young people. Enrollment in agricultural studies averages only 3 percent of total higher education enrollment.

Why the Youth Are Moving Away from Agriculture

Several studies show the reasons behind the move away from agriculture for young Filipinos. One study showed the different perceptions of rice farming in children of farmers aged 13-21, located in the Aurora and Albay provinces. Overall, the study showed favorable views of farming, such as it being a source of income and an honorable vocation. The unfavorable views of the children included seeing farming as difficult and unglamorous. Within this study it was found that 41 out of the 68 participants wished to migrate in hopes of pursuing careers outside of farming, which included nursing, seafaring, engineering, and teaching.

Families play a large role in influencing children toward or away from agriculture. An ongoing dissertation by Veronica Gregorio identifies three types of parenting strategies: parents influencing their children away from agriculture, parents who involve their children in agriculture, and parents who develop their children's agricultural skills as a contingency. The report noted that parents with negative attitudes about farming have children who are less likely to want to be involved in agriculture.

A study conducted by the Asian Farmers' Association for Sustainable Rural Development (AFA) cited several factors as to why Filipino youth are turning away from agriculture. Some of these reasons included a general disregard for farming, lack of access to land, lack of access to capital, lack of participation in governance, and risks to agriculture wrought by climate change.

There are several laws promoting agriculture in the Philippines with an emphasis on modernization and protection. The last two acts have a focus on young Filipinos.

-Laws in the Philippines that promote and support agriculture in general

-Comprehensive Agrarian Reform Law of 1988 — Set new guidelines for retention limits and provides benefits to landowners, leaseholders, and farmworkers who rendered service for value.

-Agricultural and Fisheries Modernization Act of 1997 — Modernized agriculture and fishing in the Philippines and provides extension services and centers for agricultural education and research.

-Philippine Fisheries Code of 1998 — Protects rights of fishermen, manages resources, limits access of resources for the exclusive use of Filipino citizens, and promotes sustainable development.

-Agricultural Competitiveness Enhancement Fund of 2008 — Protects farmers against unfair trade practices and provides support to them.

-Agri-Agra Reform Credit Act of 2009 — Set up an agrarian reform credit in which all banks must set aside 25 percent of their total loanable funds for agriculture and fisheries credit.

-Organic Agriculture Act of 2010 — Established commercialized organic farming in the Philippines.

-Farm Mechanization Law of 2013 - Promotes the use of modern machinery that is more cost-effective and environmentally friendly.

-Law that references young Filipinos in agriculture

-Rural Farm School Act of 2013 - Created rural farm schools, free from tuition, as an alternative to secondary education for Filipinos in agricultural areas.

-Law on the role of young Filipinos

-Youth in Nation-Building Act of 1994 - Established the National Youth Commission to be responsible for programs and policies to help the Filipino youth develop and grow.

Findings from the Study

Agriculture Cannot Yet Be a Viable Alternative to Migration

The report stated that agriculture cannot yet be a viable alternative to migration due to it still being an unattractive industry to young Filipinos. Participants in the study noted that the negative mindset towards farming exists for both them and their families. Greater access to higher education for Filipino youth has resulted in them considering career options outside of farming. Technology is another factor in the decisions of young Filipinos to leave behind their agricultural backgrounds.

Some of the older farmers who participated in the study suggested health care as a necessary reform for agricultural workers, who are often susceptible to injuries such as snake bites and leptospirosis. They also recommended introducing agriculture into the school systems to encourage interest in farming at an early age. One young farmer from the study, Kenjo Nacpil, pointed out that farming involves more than just food production, but also marketing and engineering. Young people may wish to become more involved in farming if educated on the various possibilities within agriculture.

Programs to Encourage Youth Participation in Agriculture

The report lists several programs established by the Department of Agriculture and ATI to encourage and increase participation in agriculture amongst Filipino youths.

-Schools for Practical Agriculture (SPA) - A program in which farmers are trained to use their farmland as a demonstration area or learning site for other farmers or out-of-school youth (OSY).

Seventeen young people and adults in a room at the 4-H club in Taluksangay, Philippines
Members of the Taluksangay 4-H Club with municipal representatives. The club’s award-winning seaweed farming initiative has attracted Indigenous young people to agriculture and enabled them to help shape their community’s future. © Chrysalyn Gocatek

-Ladderized Course for OSY — A program that provides scholarships to 4-H Club of the Philippines members for a two-year diploma course program. Graduates may apply for a Bachelor of Science in Entrepreneurial Management or Bachelor of Science in Agricultural Entrepreneurship.

-e-Extension Program — Programs developed for online learning by ATI to broaden the scope of agricultural learning.

-Young Filipino Farm Leaders Training Program in Japan — A program in which young Filipino farmers spend 11 months on a Japanese host farm to exchange farming techniques and knowledge.

-Glamorizing Farming through Agriculture: Metropolitan Youth in Sustainable and Healthy Living — A new program establishing and expanding 4-H programs to urban areas to promote food security and sustainability.

-Produktibong 4-H Scholarship of the Youth Empowerment through a Sustainable (YES) Program — A program which provides educational support to children in low-income farming families.

-Expanded Human Resource Development Program (EHRDP) - A local program focused on improving the human resources sector of the agriculture and fishing sector of the country.

Filipino men and women sit laughing at long tables inside a room
Cropital meeting. The crowdsourced initiative Cropital was founded by two university students in 2015 to increase livelihood security for rice farmers. Of its 40,000-some investors, nearly two-thirds are under the age of 35. © Cropital

Other initiatives in agriculture include the annual Gawad Saka (Agriculture Award) given to outstanding young farmers and outstanding young farmer/fisherfolk organizations. The Department of Agriculture and the Philippine Rice Research Institute (PhilRice) established the Infomediary Campaign in 2012, which focuses on encouraging high school students to share information in their rice farming communities and facilitate access to information about new technologies in the rice farming industry. The young Filipinos involved became more interested in agriculture as a result of the project.

NGOs in the Philippines have been another source of encouragement to young people. The East-West Seed, an organization dedicated to vegetable farmers, started a competition for university students to create new technologies that could ease the workload of small vegetable farmers. The organization provided the top three teams with PHP 150,000 to help them develop their innovations. The 2018 winners of the competition created a solar-operated, multicrop dryer that was used to convert excess tomatoes into dried tomatoes, thus increasing farmers' profits by an estimated 30 percent. Another competition, created by the Villar SIPAG (Social Institute for Poverty Alleviation and Governance) Foundation, is the Youth Poverty Reduction Challenge, which recognizes youth organizations that have projects dedicated to agriculture, recycling waste, green technologies, rural and urban innovations, and more.

Highlights from the Case Studies

The ten case studies from the report are divided into three themes: programs to attract or retain young people in agriculture, profiles of young farmers, and youth innovators in agriculture.

Programs to Attract or Retain Young People in Agriculture

-4-H Club of the Philippines — The 4-H Club is an organization from the United States dedicated to involving rural youth in agricultural activities. The Philippines started its own variation of the club in 1952 when the Bureau of Agricultural Extension was created.

-Taluksangay 4-H Club, Zamboanga City - A 4-H club composed of members from several different Indigenous ethnic groups that are involved in mangrove planting, community cleanups, and seaweed farming. Seaweed farming became the focus of the club and resulted in them winning several awards such as the national and regional Gawad Saka (Agriculture Award) for Outstanding Young Fisherfolk/Farmers' Organization. Outside of awards, the club's seaweed farming project generated inspiration for the entire community, especially young farmers.

-Kaneshige Farm-Rural Campus Foundation (KFRC) - Kaneshige Farm-Rural Campus Foundation is a program in the province of Negros Occidental that started in 2009 to train out-of-school youth in agriculture. The program is supported by a Japanese NGO, Alternative People's Linkage in Asia, which supplies land for the program. The six-month program trains youth in growing vegetables, raising pigs, budgeting, marketing, and character development. The main criterion to enter the program is that a trainee's family must own farmland. There is no program cost to the trainees, and they may earn money during the program by selling the vegetables or animals they raise. About half of graduates from the program have continued farming. KFRC has recently started to provide postgraduation support and training to those who need it.

Profiles of Young Filipino Farmers

There were three case studies conducted of young farmers, and several common characteristics were found between them. All three farmers are members of 4-H clubs and state that their membership reinforced their interest in agriculture. They all have families that own land. Two of the three come from a family of farmers, and all three have support from their families to pursue agriculture. All three have received awards for their work in agriculture. It was concluded that programs such as 4-H Club and YFFLPTJ as well as support from family were important in helping these young people become farmers.

-Cropital Enterprises Corporation, Philippines (Cropital) - Cropital started in 2015 as a crowdsourcing platform to help financially support farmers. Two University of the Philippines students, Ruel Amparo and Rachel de Villa, founded the project, which connects rice farmers in seven different provinces to investors. Cropital also provides technical support, assured buyers, and crop insurance to farmers. Only three years after Cropital was founded, more than 40,000 investors have registered on the site.

-Young Professionals for Agricultural Development (YPARD) Philippines - YPARD is an international program that aims to provide a discussion platform for young people in agricultural development. The Philippines chapter of YPARD, led by Jim Leandro Cano, started in 2015. Their focus is addressing the problem of generational succession by promoting youth involvement in research, development, academe, agribusiness, and agricultural policy. YPARD Philippines wishes to collaborate with several other agricultural organizations, such as the 4-H Club, to further promote their message.

-Good Food Co. (GFC) - GFC started in 2010 as a social enterprise with the main goal of supporting small farms in organic and sustainable agriculture. GFC promotes distribution of farmers' produce through farmshare subscriptions. Consumers can subscribe to purchase organic produce, which is delivered to and available for pick up in Metro Manila.

-Sierreza-Los Baños Community Shared Agriculture (CSA) and Zero-Waste Store and Artisan Café - Sierreza-Los Baños CSA is a zero-waste café and store that serves organic produce from farmers in Indigenous communities. The mission of Sierreza is to connect farmers to buyers in the community, promote healthy and sustainable living, and support fair trade. The empowerment of Indigenous peoples is also an important aspect of the Sierreza CSA.


The report concludes that findings throughout the study seem to be generally contrasting. Concerns for the future of agriculture stem from the decreasing number of workers in the sector, the increasing age of Filipino farmers, and the low enrollment in agricultural-related programs in higher education. However, the various programs in agriculture for youth in urban and rural areas provide some signs of improvement and an increased interest in farming amongst youths. Six main barriers to youth participation in agriculture were identified in the report: 1) access to knowledge and education, (2) access to land, (3) access to financial services, (4) access to green jobs, (5) access to markets, and (6) engagement in policy dialogue. Engagement in policy dialogue seems to be the most neglected problem due to young Filipinos being seen as recipients of agricultural programs rather than leaders themselves. Access to land and agricultural markets for youth will help activate participation and open the door to many opportunities in agriculture, not necessarily in farming. Agriculture has opportunities in investment, research, chemistry, and policymaking, to name a few. Addressing these concerns will be important when considering the future of agriculture and the problem of generational succession.