#NationalHeroesDay: Filipina dame knighted by Dutch king says 'never too late to get into farming' – Philstar.com

MANILA, Philippines — Age does not matter at all for anyone who wants to pursue farming or agriculture in general. Now more than ever, the young and old are seeing how food security is a basic human right that everyone must take part in cultivating and protecting. 
"Agriculture should be given the attention it deserves. Food security is a sovereign right," said Dr. Mary Ann Sayoc to Philstar.com in a recent email interview.  
Dr. Sayoc  was given a Knighthood in the Order of Orange-Nassau by the Dutch King Willem Alexander on April 26, 2021.
Her knighthood gives her the privilege to use the title “Dame” and to wear the royal decoration during special occasions such as the reception on the occasion of the King’s birthday or state functions.
Dr. Sayoc was part of the Philippine team that helped establish the Dutch-funded International Training Center on Pig Husbandry (ITCPH), a bilateral cooperation between the Philippines and the Netherlands, in 1985. 
A Doctor of Veterinary Medicine from the University of the Philippines, Dr. Sayoc worked for the Department of Agriculture in various capacities as research veterinarian, training center director of ITCPH, director of the Agricultural Training Institute and Regional Director of Region 4. In 2000, the founder and then President of East West Seed, Simon Groot, tapped her to become the integrated seed company's general manager. She currently serves as the company's Public Affairs Lead. 
Contrary to the common belief that agriculture is best pursued while young and able-bodied, Dr. Sayoc said it should be an inclusive sector because of its encompassing scope. It is time to break out of the perception that agriculture is hard and back-breaking. 
"Age doesn’t matter when it comes to pursuing a career in agriculture," she said. "Agriculture should not only be associated with farming which is old-fashioned, hard and back-breaking. We should talk about agriculture from the value chain perspective — from plant breeding, seed technology, food processing and other value-adding activities, marketing and distribution up to consumption."
She added that for those who are tech-savvy, precision farming and digital agriculture are new areas they can venture into.
Dr. Sayoc shared that she knows a number of people who took up agriculture as their second or third degrees. 
"Yes, a 30-something pursuing formal education on agriculture can still build a career in the public and private sectors or as an agripreneur," she shared. 
Dr. Sayoc noted how the Philippines made great strides in agriculture in the early 1960s but the country lost this competitive advantage for various reasons. These include policies not favorable to agriculture (i.e. land conversion), lack of budgetary support to agriculture resulting to poor infrastructure, inefficient agricultural value chain/supply chain, and lack of support to farmers (i.e. access to credit, crop insurance, extension services).
She sees the Department of Agriculture's vital role in engaging the private sector and other stakeholders in modernizing Philippine agriculture by promoting innovation, technology, crafting science-based policies, providing farmers access to credit, crop insurance, extension services, market access, infrastructure like irrigation facilities, farm-to-market roads, post harvest and cold chain facilities, among others. 
"We also need to encourage the youth in engaging in agriculture as our farmers are aging. We need to rebrand agriculture and make it cool and sexy to the younger generation," she stressed. 
Dr. Sayoc believes this can be achieved by building a good image of agriculture among the youth and by integrating agriculture into the school curriculum of the Kto12 program, making STEM into a STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Agriculture  and Mathematics) curriculum.
Hackathons that will focus on technological innovations such as precision agriculture to solve the problems of farmers, provide internship in agribusiness companies, provide agripreneurship training and interest-free loan for start-up capital are among the ways to lure in the youth.
Those who are a bit older than the tertiary level students but are interested in pursuing farming and agriculture, Dr. Sayoc said they should not be discouraged because there are many academic institutions, government and private organizations that provide training in various fields in agriculture. They can start with short courses and later decide to pursue a Bachelor of Science degree in agriculture. They can also attend mentoring sessions like the ones organized by Go Negosyo and learn from agri-entrepreneurs.
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