Food security has always been high in the agenda of our country. Now that we are 100 million and counting, can we secure enough food for all of us? Is there enough agricultural labor force to suffice the need?
It is clear with the Commission on Higher Education that enrolment in agriculture, fisheries, forestry, and veterinary medicine had declined from 85,266 in 1999 to only 49,823 in 2010.
“Most students are influenced with our modern technology leading them to take up information technology courses or any related course that will lead them to working in offices,” said Margie Cabuhat, a teacher in Balagtas National High School in Bulacan.
In 2001, a “living museum” was born in the heart of metropolitan Manila as another way to create awareness on the importance of rice and rice farmers.
One and only in the big city
The first rice garden was then established at the Luneta Park, a joint project of PhilRice, Bureau of Plant Industry, National Parks Development Committee, and Asia Rice Foundation.
Since then, events such as ceremonial harvesting, rice appreciation lectures, and field days happened in the area, participated in mostly by high school and elementary students.
Mitzchell T. Dela Cruz, Grade 8 student of Manuel A. Roxas High School, said that the rice garden let her see rice in a different perspective.
“There’s no rice field in our area and I only see milled rice being sold in the market and on my plate, cooked. If all Filipinos, especially the youth, would realize how long it takes to produce a single grain, maybe we would no longer waste rice every time we eat,” Dela Cruz said.
Mark Kenneth Barit, a High Schooler from Manila, said “I realized that farmers play an important role not just in agriculture but also in our health. We need them practically three times a day.”
Every year, a ceremonial harvesting is held at the Luneta Park and students learn rice production and appreciation through lectures, exhibits, and rice quiz bee competitions. The exercise aims to raise the awareness of the youth on rice production and attract them to someday venture in agriculture.
Rice garden in the provinces
To further intensify the knowledge of students on rice production, PhilRice and the Department of Education launched the Sagot ko ang magulang ko! an infomediary campaign in 2012.
Through this campaign, agricultural technical vocational schools established rice gardens to teach students the basics in rice production through lectures and hands-on training.
Joenablle Curilan, a student of Agusan Pequeño NHS Butuan City, learned to identify and protect beneficial insects in the rice field, such as wasps, lady beetles, and spiders.
“With the rice garden in our school, I was able to experience how to prepare the land, weed, and harvest. I was also able to share to my grandfather how to practice the Minus-One Element Technique (MOET),” she said.
MOET is a reliable, low-cost, and easy alternative way to diagnose the soil nutrient status.
Orlan Rabago of Balagtas National Agricultural High plans to take up agriculture in college. With the rice garden and through hands-on training, he was inspired to learn more about rice and one day improve the lives of farmers by increasing their yield and income.
“My father is a farmer and our lessons in farming especially the hands-on training in the rice garden equipped me to do farm activity on our own farm. I learned how to operate a hand tractor which is important in land preparation,” said Orlan.
To Mitzchell, Mark, Joenablle, and Orlan, the rice garden has given them the first step in learning the rigorous work in rice production. It helped students see agriculture and rice production in a new light. For them, it is definitely more than just a garden.