The need to grow

Witnessing the Stairway boys harvest vegetables and fruits they have nurtured is a success at multiple levels. There is the obvious benefit of the produce as well as the therapeutic and educational value of the process to reach harvest.

Farming on a decline

Growing grapes in Stairway.

Food security is a growing concern for a large portion of the Philippine population living in poverty. According to a 2022 survey by the Department of Social Welfare and Development, 30% of the country’s population live in dire poverty. Farmers account for a large share of that group, 31.6 percent, according to the Philippine Statistics Authority. With the average age of Filipino farmers ranging from 55 years old to 59 years old, it appears predictable that the Philippines is about to face a critical shortage of farmers. Underpaid hard work does not attract many young people to seek farming as a career. The low esteem for people working under the sun only adds to the disaffection for the profession. Up until the pandemic, there was an average annual decline of enrollment into agriculture programs and related courses at 1.5%*, which does not jive with the government’s plans for achieving rice self-sufficiency. On the contrary, it poses a threat to food security as a whole.

Changing the paradigm

Rommel’s first harvest of dragon fruits.

Over the many years, we have offered scholarships to thousands of children and youth from impoverished families, we have had less than a handful wishing to pursue agriculture-related courses. This should not come as a surprise, considering the massive advertising campaigns successfully convincing entire populations about the superiority of having white skin. A seriously challenged educational system combined with excessive exposure to social media platforms make a powerful advertising industry the guiding light in a cataclysm of consumerism.

Stairway’s initiatives against these unsustainable trends go beyond sowing affection for gardening amongst our boys in the family home program with their weekly day at the farm. Over the past year, we have held a series of courses on organic farming for senior high school students. The courses that run over several weekends end up with a visit to different colleges and universities offering agricultural-related courses and programs.

Another new initiative is bringing in an international and diverse group of farm volunteers. We have signed up with a couple of volunteer networks that recruit young people worldwide to volunteer on organic farms around the world. Further, we are pursuing collaboration with local and international organic farm schools to attract knowledgeable and motivated young people as interns and volunteers. We hope a diverse group of young dedicated farmers from around the world will help inspire our local youth.

*According to a report citing the Southeast Asian Regional Center for Graduate Study and Research in Agriculture.