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Young farmers speak out on rural development

Written by Karen Alcober and Richard Dy – Plan International

Governments should recognise the need for a better irrigated agriculture in order to ensure water and food security for the poor, said young farmers from Typhoon Haiyan-hit communities in Eastern Visayas.

At the 2nd Asian Irrigation Forum held at the Asian Development Bank (ADB) headquarters in Manila 20-22 January, four young farmers participated in high level discussions that aim to improve irrigation services for Asian farmers. ADB officials, irrigation experts, and executives from the private sector shared diverse country and regional level perspectives as they try to answer the question: How do we secure tomorrow’s water and food?

One of the highlights of the event was a youth debate, where farmers from a livelihood project of child rights organisation Plan International Philippines, through the funding support of UK charities under the Disasters Emergency Committee, shared their opinion on free or subsidised irrigation water.

The young farmers were joined by debaters from the University of the Philippines and Ateneo de Manila University.

“Through free or subsidized water, one will see government’s sincerity in helping Filipino farmers,” said Anthony Tobes, 22, from Basey, Eastern Samar, and a model in his community for his organic garden.

According to Anthony, the village where he lives in does not have enough water due to poor irrigation. On the other hand, his community experiences intense flooding during the monsoon season.

Anthony said that having a good irrigation can address the effects of climate change.

However, another participant in the debate, Alex Ogsimer, 29, and president of a farmers association in Burauen, Leyte, countered by saying: “Irrigation is very important, especially for our association, because we need enough water supply to be able to plant and yield more crops.”

Meanwhile, the Philippine government’s livelihood project, through funding from Asian Development Bank’s Japan Fund for Poverty Reduction in partnership with Plan International Philippines,  also sent young farmers to the irrigation talks: Conrad Espedilla, 27, a barangay (village) council officer in Burauen, and Rona Aguillo, 25, an Agribusiness student, from Salcedo, Eastern Samar.

“As a young farmer, I realised how important irrigation is. We’re lucky that our place is located in a higher ground; we have more than enough water supply. But in nearby lowland villages, farmers do not have enough water because all water goes to us,” said Conrad, a young farmer.

“With the establishment of irrigation systems, there will be equal distribution of water,” he added.

Meanwhile, Rona, another young farmer, saw the event as an opportunity to share her commitment to agriculture amid the declining number of irrigation practitioners.

Rona knows that agriculture is not an attractive option for youth, which is why she wants to encourage others by being an example.

“Agriculture is my passion and I wish to share this and encourage fellow youth to go into farming,” she said. “I will use the techniques I have learned from the trainings to encourage my friends and neighbors.”

Aside from Plan International Philippines, development partners Water Youth Network, the International Rice Research Institute, and Young Professionals for Agricultural Development advanced youth participation at the recently concluded irrigation talks.