Juliana Bihis-Tolentino, Senior Agriculturalist, Department of Agriculture, Republic of the Philippines
A country's growth and development is fuelled by various components in its economy. Ultimately, sustainable growth and development depends on the strengths and capabilities of its human resources. Two-thirds of the population who live in rural areas rely on agriculture as their primary livelihood.
Unfortunately, poverty is rife in the rural areas. Over forty percent of rural families live on incomes below the designated poverty line, in contrast to only twenty percent of urban families. Thus it is imperative that any programme aimed at improving the standard of living and long-term economic stability in rural areas should hinge itself on the premise of further developing and sustaining agriculture, the resource base from which rural incomes are derived.
The primary problem is not the lack of resources but rather the underdevelopment of rural-based human capital. If the human capital present in rural areas is built up and properly developed through relevant alternative education, then this will prove to be a great investment in agriculture and other agri-related industries. In order to properly develop rural human resources, it is necessary to provide comprehensive education in scientific methods of agricultural production and other basic skills which are essential to the development of rural industries.
The government subscribes to the belief that beneficiaries of development programmes should themselves be active participants. In the case of rural development programmes, the active participation of the beneficiaries in programme planning and execution is important for they have a personal stake in the outcome of the programme: the programme's success is also their own. The ultimate goal of every development programme is to instill the value of self-sufficiency, self-reliance and self-motivation on every member of the rural Community.
The emphasis on youth stems from this sector's dynamism, openness and responsiveness to new ideas and resilience to changes ushered by these new ideas. These qualities work to the advantage of youth and their communities. It is only now that people in government and the private sector are beginning to notice and appreciate the benefits which may be realized by maximizing the potential of youth. Thus it is imperative that youth be provided with opportunities for participation and contribution.
It is vital at this juncture to note that in rural areas, the sector often overlooked is youth due to their financial dependence on the family. Sadly, rural youth encounter few opportunities to develop their faculties and acquire the practical skills required to make them more productive and competitive in agriculture.
The fact that rural youth comprise a substantial portion of the population heightens the necessity of developing their heretofore untapped potential. Through the strategic employment of relevant and practical rural youth development programmes, improvements in the entire community is not far behind.
1. Philippine rural youth programmes
Following the government's policy of encouraging the participation of youth, the Department of Agriculture goes one step further by empowering these rural workers with the necessary scientific knowledge and skills, resulting in better human resource utilization. The rationale behind this is simple. Accelerating rural development gives people in these areas the direct benefit from such development for their own well-being.
To accelerate the development of farm youth, certain measures must be undertaken in order to make this vision a reality. These are:
1. Provide access to financial assistance which takes into account, not exploits, the rural youth limited capacity to pay.
2. Involve the entire community in all matters pertaining to the proposed programme.
3. Active participation and promotion of brotherhood, goodwill and understanding both locally and internationally.
It is important to point out that the benefits that may be realized is not confined to rural areas. The development of rural economies have positive repercussions on the entire country. For one, when a rural community is able to provide stable employment for its members, then there is less incentive to migrate to urban areas, "decongesting" and easing the pressure on the urban city's resources.
Another positive effect of rural development is its potential to provide rural youth the opportunity to engage in relevant activities. In a world plagued by social ills such as substance abuse, random violence and incurable diseases, the most vulnerable to these are youth. By directing their attention and energy to activities such as starting livelihood projects and other rural development projects, youth' capabilities are harnessed and maximized, making them productive citizens.
The entire country stands to gain, in economic and social terms. Although rural development programmes are not heralded as solutions to all the problems beset by the rural areas, it presents a solid first step in strengthening the rural folk who stand at the centre of the community.
The existing programmes in the country are geared toward the development of rural youth by giving them opportunity to acquire the knowledge, skills and attitudes (KSA) whose central focus is toward instilling a sense of community consciousness.
To get more insights on Philippine youth programmes, the Agricultural Training Institute (ATI) and the ASEAN Rural Youth Development Centre (ARYDEC) conducted a joint research study entitled Agriculture and ASEAN Rural Youth: Current and Future Prospects. The data collected from this study are intended for use by administrators, policy makers and programme planners to improve and strengthen existing and future programmes in the country. A condensed version of the study and its most salient findings and points may be found as Annex I.
2. Constraints to programme development
Many factors impinge on the development of rural youth programmes, among these are:
A. Involvement of the Rural Youth
Ideally, the formulation of a rural youth development programme involves the interactive participation of youth themselves, from the programme's planning and implementation to its monitoring and evaluation.
However, an analysis of the actual situation would yield the following observations: at its best, rural youth are only superficially involved, their participation is often limited only to preplanning, where a very general assessment of the situation is made through data-gathering. While it may seem that this in itself is a substantial contribution, the programme that eventually emerges from the entire process is often out of touch with the realities and problems which beset rural youth. At its worst, rural youth are overlooked altogether, resulting in a programme that is, literally and figuratively, thrust upon them to simply follow.
Although the government's policy advocates direct and continuous involvement by youth and the entire community, there seems to be a misunderstanding as to what "involvement" truly means in the context of providing a practical rural youth development programme.
With the shortage of human resources needed for the implementation of various other government programmes at the grass-roots level, extension workers are unable to devote the time and attention needed by development programmes which are specifically aimed at harnessing youth.
C. Knowledge and Experience
Extension workers have limited knowledge and experience to provide the necessary service and support needed by rural youth to enable them to assume the role of enlightened farmers in due course of time.
D. Nature of Organizations/Institutions
Most organizations/institutions engaged in the service of rural youth - which operate through the help of volunteers - though well-intentioned, have not fully evolved to cope with the demands and rigours of youth development work. For example, some organizations are not fully self-sufficient in a financial sense, resulting in their inability to render free service to rural youth.
As a result of the notion that there are more opportunities for financial success in the urban areas, most rural youth leave their communities to try their luck in the urban areas. The main reason for this is that there is very little tangible evidence of growth and opportunities within the rural communities.
F. Agriculture as a Profession
Today's rural youth view agriculture as an undesirable profession. It is seen as not being progressive and denotes a low social status. With the advent of the information era, where media can penetrate previously unreachable areas in the countryside, rural youth are bombarded with the glamour of the metropolis. The willingness to venture into a career in agriculture has now become a rare initiative.
As currently patterned, the curricula which schools in rural areas follow slants heavily on the promotion of metropolitan values and definitions of success. Consequently, many youth are convinced that the degree of improvement in their status lies only in pursuing a career in the urban areas.
To declare this type of an Education "harmful" or misleading would be hasty and uncalled for. However, one must also realize the need for education that promotes values and skills suitable for rural areas. The best compromise is a balanced curriculum with elements of both urban and rural education.
The entire point is that youth should be enlightened by the fact that if adequate time, patience and perseverance is devoted to a career based in their own communities, then rural life holds as much fulfilment and success as life in the urban areas.
H. Political Structure
Due to the clamour of local governments to have a bigger hand in the development of their respective communities, the responsibility for rural development has been devolved from the national to the local government. As a result, the development of youth programmes are now at the mercy of what the local government deems as its priorities.
Furthermore, rural development is greatly affected by devolution. Frequent changes in government structure lead to frequent changes in policy, procedure and thrust, making it difficult for extension workers to maintain a sense of consistency and continuity in their work. This confusion inadvertently passes on to rural youth and the community
3. Plan of action
The formation of youth clubs and other types of farmer organizations has been viewed by government as an integral part of many development schemes. Such schemes often involve compulsory membership, resulting in an organization inadvertently disrupted by government bureaucracy. At best, it can be said that rural youth groups of various kinds have met with mixed success.
Comparatively, few youth have become members of such groups, even in situations where a cooperative-based system is know to exist, perhaps owing to the fact that in the past youth were given token roles to play; roles which posses little impact on the entire programme.
Rural youth motivation cannot begin to gain a foothold without proper educational opportunity. However, rural education is often patterned after urban systems. Consequently, this type of education pulls people out of the countryside rather than instill in them the values of playing a more productive role in their own rural community.
As a result, instead of modifying the current curricula employed, an alternative education of sorts is given to the rural youth through extension work. This alternative education provides those who decide to embark on a career in the rural areas with adequate skills and training to maximize their effort.
Ironically, extension work often fails in one of its primary objectives: to operate an adequate two-way flow of information. Rarely do technical problems of a particular group of rural youth find their way back to the appropriate research station. Rarer still do the human problems of youth find their way to the government. There is a strong feeling among many rural youth that government services often work for rather than with the community. There is very little room for constructive interaction.
There is also little recognition of the fact that the participation of rural youth in programme planning and implementation serves both as an instrument and target of comprehensive socio-economic development, which includes the notion of human emancipation. Once again, youth are overlooked with regard to their capacity to undertake pivotal roles of responsibility.
There is also a serious lack of knowledge of development dynamics which hinders the introduction of new and innovative approaches to rural development projects. Such an impediment to dynamism threatens to stunt the natural evolution of programmes which, in turn, might result in eventual decreases in a programme's success rate.
Programme development criteria
There are five criteria which should be used in any rural youth development programme. These are:
· An assumption that the local folk will play a lead role in rural development;
· Intervention can acceptably enter a situation where a solution has already been worked out;
· One of the primary goals should be to strengthen existing rural institutions at the grassroots level.
· That the essential resources needed by the programme already exists within the community and that all available external resources should only be supplementary or enabling in nature; and
· That equal recognition can be given to methodology and content.
Foundations of programme development
The topic of this paper implies building a strong human foundation for rural development. The process is akin to constructing a building, where a series of procedures, systems and activities are carefully planned, implemented and evaluated.
The construction of a strong foundation, which serves as the pillar of source of strength of any building, is of paramount importance. The four pillars that give strength to the rural youth organizations are the following:
Leaders must be cooperative, efficient, honest, helpful and possess initiatives in order to serve as a good example to all members and future leaders. She or he must also understand the needs of the individuals under her or him.
Full support of the community, especially on project establishment and maintenance, is crucial to a programme's acceptance, assimilation and success. Even if a programme promises a positive impact on a community's standard of living, the real test of its success relies heavily on the community's estimation of the project's worth.
The consent and permission of youths' parents is an indirect prerequisite for a strong organization. This signifies the openness of the family to new concepts and ideas and their belief in attaining success through a unified group effort.
· Extension Workers
Rural extension workers provide valuable guidance, support and insights culled from their experience. Aside form this, they help by providing classes, guides and other materials needed by youth to steer them in the best possible avenue toward the success of the development programme.
Supports of programme development
To augment the strength of the organization there should be:
· An organized, coordinated and credible service delivery system.
· An equally organized, coordinated and credible service receiving client system
· A promptly responsive and supportive service delivery channel.
· A reasonably funded and properly decentralized extension service delivery system which proceeds from a bottom-up consultation process.
Rural youth organizations play a role of a receiving mechanism within the community. Their enthusiasm and receptivity to new ideas often spills over to the community. Consequently, they should be more directly involved in planning, programming, implementing, monitoring and evaluation of research and extension programmes and projects.
The research and extension system must also focus on the quick transfer of indigenous location-specific, low-cost technologies. These technologies must be adapted to the specific conditions of each geographical area and drawn from the practical experiences of rural youth farmers in the location. Emphasis should be given to technologies that will broaden young farmers' options for diversifying into higher value crops.
General management of rural youth programmes, which involve decision-making, delegation of responsibility, time management, group dynamics, record keeping, accountability reporting and interpersonal relations, may reach youth professionals through leadership training and development.
4. Role of the public sector
In some instances, the fundamental problem lies in the prevailing structure of the society. Unfortunately, the current social structure is characterized by the survival of a traditional power hierarchy in which the most powerful economic groups strive to maintain their position and influence in the econo-political sphere of society. This problem has continually prevented the disadvantaged rural youth from participating in crucial economic and political decisions - decisions which have the potential to improve their status.
Admittedly, government programmes in rural youth development will not succeed unless rural youth are prepared to back the programmes with time and hard work. It is only through helping themselves can youth hope to achieve any measure of success.
The common problems faced by rural youth may be resolved only with a united effort. Despite the increase in the rate of migration from rural to urban centres, rural youth today stand to become the farmers of tomorrow. Keeping the long run in mind, the rapid acceleration of the rate of agricultural technology transfer cannot be sustained by simply "importing" wave after wave of technology for individual use. Economies of scale is best achieved through the organization and combination of efforts. In the areas of introducing group work and a return to the tradition of cooperation, there is no better starting point than with youth.
By banding themselves together, rural youth will have a collective voice that will enable them to be better heard. The "collectivity" would place them in a more tenable position to request for technical advice and possible financial support which they require. The likelihood of giving rural youth unsolicited advice and irrelevant projects would certainly decrease.
The government must assist youth in order to begin correcting the imbalance of econo-power (due to the societal structure mentioned beforehand) and provide relevant rural youth development programmes. The government can facilitate this by:
· fashioning or enhancing a comprehensive set of policies aimed at increasing private investments in agri-based rural enterprises which would increase the level of employment and income;
· Directing more public investments to rural infrastructure and services which would aid in the realization of increased agricultural productivity; and improving the delivery of relevant government services to the rural sector.
Clearly, government has the economic resources and political will to help improve the lives of the rural youth. All it would entail is to make government aware of the pressing need for its intervention.
5. Programme monitoring and evaluation
Monitoring keeps track of project activities and progress to provide feedback to the project management staff. Monitoring also assesses whether inputs are delivered on time.
Evaluation is a programme activity designed to obtain objective information about the programme or project activities in order to determine its significance, efficiency and efficacy.
B. Monitoring and evaluation systems
A helpful system formulated by the government is the Project Monitoring System. This system may be used:
· to support the decentralization and administrative delegation policies;
· to facilitate project implementation.
This system provides for monitoring and evaluating of the project at sub-national levels and acts as a mechanism for early detection and remedial solution of problems at all levels.
The goal of setting up monitoring and evaluation systems is to provide data that will serve as feedback on the progress of a development programme.
Such feedback is important for they take into account variations in the assumptions which were used during the planning of the programme. This allows the programme to adapt accordingly to the factor(s) which were previously unaccounted for, thereby improving and enhancing the programme's chances of achieving the target goals and objectives.
Government and non-government organizations should be involved in monitoring and evaluation of the projects for the rural youth. The goals of this joint effort are:
1. To provide objective and updated information on the status of the programme being implemented;
2. To assess the programme's effectiveness in reaching the target group;
3. To see if the programme is implemented according to plan;
4. To evaluate the extent of the programme's contribution and impact on the attainment of the set goals.
5. To assess the programme's costs vis-a-vis its effectiveness. For example:
Most modern organizations regularly generate internal information reports and bulletins which are fed to the various units of the organization. Especially in large organizations with hundreds or thousands of members in various locations, such formal information mechanisms are needed to supplement informal media for disseminating information which could be relevant to the activities of the various units in the organization.
Although rural organizations tend to be small in size with regard to the number of its members, information systems are still vital for they serve as vehicles for the exchange of information and ideas between various members of a community.
There is a very important reason for establishing and maintaining an information system. Organizational activities tend to be more coordinated to the extent that organizational units are aware of the developments and situations which occur in other parts of the organization, or share common planning and decision-making.
Thus, information is a necessary ingredient in any decision-making process. A management information system (MIS) is a framework for collecting, organizing, storing, retrieving, sorting and displaying data. This system may be utilized in programme management and administration.
Management information systems may be used to strengthen and improve rural youth development programmes. MIS would greatly assist in providing sources of materials including formal policies and philosophy, census data, surveys, research results, fiscal data and various other types of information supplied by community leaders and various organizations. This wealth of information helps in all stages of a programme's life, from planning and programming to monitoring and evaluation. If properly maintained and utilized, the MIS may act as a potent tool in realizing the success of a programme.
1. Periodic research must be conducted on the evolving profile of the rural youth and the development programmes being undertaken. This research must highlight key aspects of a rural youth development programme such as:
· The entire community's rate of participation in the programme.
· The relevance of the programme's thrusts and objectives.
· The short- and long-term impact of the programme on the community's well-being and standard of living.
· The programme's ability to meet the aspirations of the rural youth.
· The programme's capacity to empower the rural youth with the means of starting on the road to financial independence for the future.
2. Begin formulating development programmes which can accommodate youth who have essentially "graduated" from youth to adult. This way, the efforts exerted on the adult when he or she was a youth is not wasted. With a rural "adult" development programme working in conjunction with a rural "youth" development programme, the rural community's chances of improving their life increases manifold.
3. Access to financial assistance should be made available to give meaning and substance to whatever projects the organization may choose to undertake. Along a similar vein, financing is one of the top priorities of an organization in the process of strengthening itself. There are two areas where financing is most important:
· Financing of the organization's day-to-day operations. This would include overhead expenses such as rent and utilities (in the event the organization chooses to have headquarters), communication and others.
· Financing of the organization's development projects. This would pertain to expenses which are incurred directly in the implementation of a particular project. These expenses may include transportation, materials/media, professional fees (in cases where trainers are recruited) and others.
Aside from acquiring funds from traditional sources, such as the public sector, organizations should solicit financial assistance from other institution, both local and international. These would include non-government organizations (NGO's), philanthropic foundations and selected private corporation. With diversity in funding sources, the organization would maintain a reasonable measure of independence in meeting their own goals and be assured of a productive existence in the community.
With independence and self-sufficiency in mind, youth organizations must also engage in its own income-generating projects. External financial support must never be considered permanent and assured. Youth organizations must place financial independence as a top priority in its first few years of operation in order to ensure it continued existence.
5. In Order to strengthen the organization and management of rural youth programmes, a complimentary programme for continuing education in leadership and lifeskills training must be established. It is recommended that this be added to community's school curriculum to provide a holistic education for youth.
In the event this is not readily possible, youth organization's leaders should take it upon themselves to find venues for such complimentary education. This would prove valuable to all members of their organization for it is not just the leaders that make up the organization but every single member that belongs to it. Thus they must endeavour to improve themselves.
6. Incentive programmes for deserving youth such as scholarships, study tours and the like should be established with the assistance of organizations based in the country and abroad. These kinds of experiences are extremely valuable.
7. There is a very pressing need not only for recruitment but also for continuity and longevity of service from volunteers. It is essential for the leaders of today's youth organizations to groom their potential replacements that will equal or surpass their own competence and success.
This continuity within the organization will ensure its complete integration into the community. This is important for the organization because they will not be perceived as a novelty or passing fad, but rather earning the community's respect and long-term support.
8. Network with other youth organizations and communities. The exchange of ideas should be fostered, not only within the community but also with similar local and foreign organizations and communities.
This exchange of ideas will introduce new concepts and information to provide new ideas and procedures based on past experiences. Furthermore, despite possible difference in geography and environment, each community can learn from each others' successes and failures.
9. The goals of youth organization should keep in touch with the times. In order to do this, periodic evaluation of the organization must be undertaken, taking into consideration its performance and impact on the community.
In the process of this assessment, youth organization's members must engage in strategic planing to concretize their goals into definitive plans over a given time horizon. Not only does planning ensure the organization's long-run survival and growth, but it also allows for the formulation of policies that maximize the resources it has at its disposal.
Searching for avenues to direct their energies.
Looking for ways to be productive.
Receptiveness to new ideas.
Optimistic for the future.
Eager to learn.
Youth are all these and more. All they need is an opening; a chance to prove their capabilities and worth. The rural youth, if organized properly and provided with adequate training, supervision, opportunities and incentives, could engage in ventures where they can realize both economic and social benefits.
The most prudent option for harnessing the rural youth is with relevant development programmes whose benefits are not confined to youth but accrue to the entire community. These programmes aim to help by developing vital agricultural and leadership skills essential to the evolution of progressive farmers.
The Philippine 4-H Club, whose membership is voluntary, employs the use of community-based projects in which youth gain better knowledge and skills in agriculture and homemaking and broaden their attitudes and appreciation of farming and rural life. The 4-H Club's operations would exemplify the ideal rural youth organization. Certainly, there is always room for improvement anywhere. In the case of upcoming rural youth organizations, they may simply choose to adapt the best elements of the best organizations and inject their own innovations to form an organization that would respond to their specific needs.
The migration of rural youth to urban centres is a manifestation of the rural economy's inability to provide lucrative and meaningful employment. This calls for the immediate establishment of agro-industrial projects in the rural areas which would provide better opportunities for employment of rural youth while directing their potential into greater productivity, profitability and increased farm income.
The Food and Agricultural Organization of the United Nations (FAO) should focus its vast resources on fully developing the capability to strengthen rural youth programmes in less-developed countries, including the Philippines. Although FAO's assistance remains essential to strengthening agricultural knowledge in traditional crop cultivation, there is also a need for the development of innovative entrepreneurial training in alternative agri-related projects.
The goals of such technical and financial assistance would be the establishment of new programmes which would enjoin the active participation of the rural youth. Such assistance is crucial to the country's existing rural youth programmes, in order to ensure a margin of success in the campaign to improve the life of individuals in the rural areas.
Annex I - Agriculture and ASEAN rural youth: Current and future prospects
The following are summary findings from a joint study carried out by the Agricultural Training Institute, Ministry of Agriculture, The Philippines and the ASEAN Rural Youth Development Centre, Bangkok, Thailand. Many factors impinge on the development of rural youth programmes, among these are:
A. Youth' Perceptions
Rural youth respondents of this joint study were all members of the 4-H Club Organization. Their reasons for joining this organization were as follows:
· They wanted to develop their skills and knowledge.
· They wanted to develop themselves physically, socially and mentally.
· They wanted ideas for better working opportunities.
· They viewed the organization as a vehicle for community service and improvement.
B. Recommendations of the study
Based on the findings of the study, the following recommendations were made:
1. Given the fact that Philippine rural youth are relatively young, they should then be encouraged toward productivity by promoting livelihood projects which are both contemporary and along the lines of their interests. Hence, it was strongly recommended that projects should be properly identified to realize functional and productive training.
2. It is highly evident that most projects for youth are commonplace and repetitive; projects which hardly stimulate creative participation. It was recommended that new, inexpensive but highly profitable projects be undertaken. An example of these are bee keeping, orchard production, prawn-raising, cut-flower production and bio-gas technology
3. As a result of the low economic status of the rural youth, particularly those out-of-school, funds, material and equipment should be provided to attract and encourage youths' active participation in training programmes. A training needs assessment would be a good first step in ascertaining the needs of the rural youth.
4. Lending agencies should liberalize their loan policies to accommodate new enterprises started by the rural youth, taking into account their limited ability to pay. Likewise, existing incentives for home industries and self-help projects must be further enhanced by the government.
5. Better understanding and cooperation must be fostered between extension workers and rural youth in order for the latter group to better accept and adapt the improved farm practices introduced by the government through the help of the extension workers.
6. Additional budgetary allocations should be given to the Department of Agriculture's farm youth development programmes to accelerate the empowerment of the underprivileged and unemployed rural youth through skills development. Financial support should also be extended to small- and medium-scale enterprises which are managed by rural youth groups.
7. Support for countryside development should be a continuous process. More services in education, health and other social and economic areas should be channelled to rural youth. Infrastructure support such as credit and marketing would help the development of rural youth.
8. Additional media support should be provided to augment the agricultural extension workers' efforts at promoting rural youth programmes.
9. The rural youth along with the local community, must actively participate in order to achieve the goals of the Farm Youth Development Programme.
10. Periodic research/studies on agriculture and the rural youth should be conducted in order to generate continuous and updated data for planning youth programmes and formulating policies for the improvement of the quality of life for youth in the countryside.