Puerto Princesa City has an estimated 7,000 remaining farmers whose average age is 57 years old, a bleak situation that the city agriculture office warned could significantly affect the stability of the local food security in the near future.
“Our work force is getting old. Mga agricultural lands natin kino-convert into other purposes. Yung may-ari hindi na nagkakaroon ng interes (developing land for agriculture). Baka magkaroon tayo ng problema sa food production in the long term,” Miguelito Cervancia, a city aquaculturist, said.
Cervancia is in charge of the city government’s Gintong Butil Agri Farm (GBAF) which he says is their long-term solution to the threat of food scarcity.
He said they are encouraging more youth to engage in farming through their program and replenish the dwindling work force in the sector.
“Kapag nagpapatawag kami ng mga meeting for farmers, karamihan sa mga uma-attend mga senior citizens na… Sa mga barangays, kapag tatanungin mo sa mga schools, ‘Ano ang trabaho ng magulang mo?’ [sasabihin nila] ‘Ay magsagsaka lang po.’ nakayuko at as in nahihiya sila talaga. Kapag nagle-lecture kami [sinasabi naming] dapat nakataas ang noo,” said Cervancia.
Cervancia noted that while CAO has no detailed record on the declining population of farmers in the city, they know it is occurring because many of the 14,000-hectare farmlands in the city have already been converted for different uses.
Established in 1999 within a 13-hectare lot owned by the city government and situated along Kilometer 27 across Brgy. Sta. Lucia Sub. Colony, Gintong Butil Agri Farm continuously demonstrates various agricultural techniques to the farmers.
Its name “Gintong Butil” was derived from its hybrid rice being exhibited to the farmers back in the ’90s.
Cervancia said it serves as a demonstration farm not only to the rice farmers, but to the coconut, cashew, and vegetable growers.
CAO started in 2015 to open the area to the public as one of the project’s components being a “farm tourism” that mostly caters locals.
This he said is to give the visitors a glimpse of how necessary farming is to everyday life and survival.
He said they also wanted the people to understand that agriculture supports the conservation of the environment.
Cervancia said it was in the last months of 2018 when visitors started to flock to the farm, getting an average of 200 visitors each month.
Cervancia said they will maintain a “no-entrance fee” policy in order to cater to everyone and hit their goal to inspire people to engage in farming.
The facility has 29 employees consisting of farmers and agricultural technicians.
Apart from the agricultural products already being grown in the area since 1999, he said they also developed different attractions and gardens such as flower gardens, herb and spices, and container and strawberry gardens.
He said they also built human-sized nests for the visitors to take photos with, swings, and even props like butterfly wings for kids’ photo ops.
Cervancia also said they are also open to the possibility that the area is used as one of the city’s tourist destinations, but a good planning and coordination with necessary agencies need to be conducted first.