Sparking interest in Agriculture, Science and Technology

By: Chat Garrido-Ocampo

(The author is Legacy Monsanto Philippines Corporate Affairs head)

GETTING people interested in agriculture is far from easy. After all, agriculture is oftentimes not classified as a burning issue that is stimulating and important enough to discuss and debate on. Just check how many newspapers have pages devoted to agriculture. In the latter part of 2018, the fact that about 13.3 percent or 3.1 million Filipino families experienced involuntary hunger (Social Weather Survey from September 15 to 23 2018) did not seem enough to make agricultural productivity a critical issue and therefore of national concern. On the contrary, discussions on how to improve agricultural productivity seemed to have been left to agriculturists, those in the agricultural sector and industry, and the dwindling number of farmer-leaders.

Meantime, while we have a booming population resulting in an increasing number of hungry Filipinos, agriculture continues to be put on the back burner. Hence, so many times, we hear about the need to make agriculture sexy.

A simple google search using Philippine agriculture and Filipino farmer as key words yield information and images that are not at all inspiring. It should not be a wonder that enrollment in agricultural courses is declining. If the images that we see related to agriculture are that of poverty, helplessness, hopelessness and vulnerability to the elements, then we can never inspire the best and the brightest among our young to join the agriculture sector.

There is the obvious urgent need to present agriculture in a better light. BUT HOW? Truth is agriculture had already, in reality, become sexy with the use of science and technology. Talk about precision farming, crop biotechnology, biologicals, data science, digital agriculture ecosystem, among others. Agriculture has already indeed become a very exciting field!

However, science and technology do not make for easy conversations. Technical matters are not always easy to understand and therefore there should be opportunities for the audience to clarify, comment, validate or simply have the chance to have further conversations for clearer understanding. Thus, Legacy Monsanto Philippines thought of investing in the conduct of the following out of the usual activities to connect with young Filipinos and get them engaged in agriculture, science and technology:


Story-telling sessions

We have already reached out to more than 12,000 elementary school children through story-telling sessions using Monsanto’s children’s book on Bt corn and agricultural biotechnology. The children’s book titled Lina’s Town Rises Again imparted the importance of agricultural biotechnology as a solution to feed a growing nation.

The fully-illustrated book specifically written for elementary students was inspired by the success-story of farmer Consolacion Reyes from Lambayog, Sultan Kudarat. The story revolved on how her family and the whole farming community were able to recover from economic loss brought about by the devastations of typhoon Pablo. Not only did the book inform children on the benefits of agricultural biotechnology but it also conveyed a message of hope, strength, and courage in the face of adversity.

Whenever story-telling sessions were conducted, a question and answer portion always immediately followed and the exchange had always been amazing in terms of opening the minds of everyone involved on perspectives on agricultural biotechnology. Face-to-face communication and interaction surely tops the list of stakeholder outreach, especially when dealing with young students.

Meantime, as distributing hard copies of the book became costly, Legacy Monsanto Philippines decided to make an animation of the said children’s book. Viewing the animation further encouraged children to be interested in farming and the products of agricultural biotechnology as a means of transforming farmers’ lives and farming communities.


Briefings on opportunities

To get the interest of high school and college students, Legacy Monsanto Philippines also decided to do seminars and reach out to over 4,000 students. Entitled, “Monsanto & the Work That We Do,” the series of seminars conducted at different universities covered topics such as Sustainable Agriculture, Careers in Agriculture, Working in the Agriculture industry and Corporate Social Responsibility.

“We make it a point to reach out to students so that they will realize that the agriculture sector has a lot to offer,” said Legacy Monsanto HR Lead Cherie Ocampo. “We wanted to spark the students’ interests by showing how important food sustainability issues are and by sharing the available personal development opportunities that come along with careers in agricultural companies,” Ocampo further said.

During the seminar, there were also testimonials from agriculture graduates who have had successful careers in agriculture. These testimonials aimed to inspire students to pursue agriculture courses. The testimonials also provided an objective picture that agriculture could also be financially rewarding.


Monsanto Fun Kitchen

Meantime, Legacy Monsanto Philippines also endeavored to strengthen its efforts to promote better nutrition in the country when it launched an educational roadshow dubbed Monsanto Fun Kitchen. The Mobile Fun Kitchen was part of the company’s nutrition campaign in the different provinces where it has business presence.

Legacy Monsanto employees taught healthy recipes to elementary school children to encourage families make balanced meals while underscoring the relevance of biotechnology in promoting nutrition among Filipinos, especially among younger students.

After the cooking session and while the students were eating their snacks, a dialogue between Legacy Monsanto employees and elementary students would take place where the latter were given the opportunity to ask their questions on nutrition, agriculture, science and technology. The conversation that ensued was always priceless. Legacy Monsanto employees would happily share important information while students enthusiastically asked eye-opening questions. Indeed, the interest in agriculture among young students that this activity was able to spark was heartwarming if not inspiring.


Much more can still be done …

There are many more creative ideas to ignite the interest of the Filipino youth in agriculture, science and technology. Talk about stage plays and radio drama. Then there are television shows and online blogs and vlogs. Agriculture, science and technology can also be the theme of exhibits and museum displays and can even be part of fashion shows and concerts. When it comes to communicating agriculture, science and technology, the sky is indeed the limit when one has the passion and commitment to effectively share information that truly matter sin helping our country achieve progress and development.