Cebu City - An aging labor force in the agriculture sector in a predominantly agri-based economy has prompted the National Government to offer scholarship grants on agriculture-related courses as one of the long-term measures in achieving food security.

Presidential Management Staff (PMS) Assistant Secretary Ferdinand Cui in his report on 'Food and Energy Security' Program of the Arroyo Administration to public information officers (PIOs) from the different provinces, cities and municipalities in Central Visayas during its 18th annual consultative conference in Cebu City bared the average age of farm workers today is at 52 based on the Bureau of Statistics of the Dept. of Agriculture.

Cui said most youths today prefer glamorous jobs like being call center agents or high-paying ones like nurses. Today's situation sees fathers tilling the land while their children opt to get jobs in metro areas leaving the country with an aging agri-workforce, according to Cui.

The PMS official said the Philippines is still chiefly an agricultural-based economy so the only way to entice the youths to take up agriculture-related courses is to provide scholarship grants.

Cui, however, does not have the data on the number of beneficiaries of the program.

One of the priority thrusts of the Arroyo Administration is to achieve 98 percent rice self-sufficiency by 2010 as it suspends the conversion of rice lands, said to be one of the major factors in the decline of rice production.

One of the three-point strategies in achieving ensuring food security is to ensure adequate rice supply by supporting programs that benefit the farmers and increase high production yield, claimed Cui.

Pres. Arroyo's marching orders to the National Irrigation Administration (NIA) is to focus its efforts in irrigating facilities that need rehabilitation as last year, the NIA has irrigated almost 110,000 hectares of farmlands in terms of small farmland irrigation facilities, Cui revealed.

Conversion of rice lands is believed to have contributed to the decline in rice production in the country, this is said. The DA has reported that the country gets 90 percent of its rice requirement from local production while the other 10 percent is imported from Vietnam and Thailand.

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