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Field of dreams: How a ‘Makati girl’ believes her ‘farming’ degree can help feed the country

/ 06:10 PM June 17, 2018

When Johanna Lyn Estonilo Inocencio finished her college studies, she took to social media with more than just her graduation picture.

Inocencio, 20, made a statement when she shared her University of the Philippines Los Baños (UPLB) graduation photo and pictures of her doing farm work.

She wrote, “A professor once told me, ‘How can a girl living in Makati pursue a degree in Agribusiness Management?’”

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“To my prof who doubted my choice, I’m finally graduating and I will definitely serve the agribusiness sector here in the Philippines,” pledged Inocencio.

Her attention-grabbing caption has racked up over 35,000 likes on Twitter, as of this writing.

However, Inocencio has no bad blood with the professor who cast doubt on her abilities. “What he/she said gave me inspiration to finish my course,” she clarified in another Twitter post.

But the question still remains: why did she go into agribusiness?

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Inocencio told INQUIRER.net in an exclusive interview that it was never her dream to take the program, and admits that she simply took up the same course as her sister, BS Agribusiness Management in UPLB.

Eventually, she learned to love her field of study. “Agriculture is not only about farming. Agriculture is sophisticated, as it includes bio-technology, crop modelling, etc.,” she explained. “I saw how relevant it is to have professionals in the field of agribusiness.”

According to the program’s website, the four-year undergraduate course involves learning both about “the technical side of agriculture but also the management of a business.”

“I think it is a flexible degree program kasi (because) you will see us with our working clothes working in the field and suddenly you will see us with our corporate business attires presenting business case analyses,” she said.

More than just a city girl

Inocencio worked hard to break stereotypes being a city girl, and she had to deal with the stigma against agriculture as a profession.

“At first, nakakapressure. It seemed like I always have to prove myself to other people and make them believe na hindi lang ako basta taga-Makati na gusto lang makakuha ng diploma sa UP,” she said.

(At first, I felt pressured. I always have to prove myself to other people and make them believe that I’m not just someone from Makati who just wants to get a diploma from U.P.)

She recalls planting rice during her second year in college and panicking as she sank into the mud.

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Johanna Inocencio on her first seed-planting experience. Image: Twitter/@joha_inoc

“I recall na grabe sigaw ko habang lumulusong kasi I can feel sa paa ko na may mga gumagapang talaga (I can still recall how loud I screamed while I sank because I could feel something crawling on my feet).

But it was an important moment, as Inocencio realized the difficulty farmers had in planting seeds out in the hot sun.

She also learned how to drive a truck and how to lasso an animal. “Magaling ka pala dito eh, akala ko puro arte ka lang (You’re good at this, I thought you were just all fuss),” she was told by an instructor when she was able to lasso a drum for practice.

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Inocencio practices how to lasso cattle. Image: Twitter/@joha_inoc

Farm work became a norm, from slaughtering chickens to milking cows and roping cattle, after she got over the initial shock. She recalled, “Nung una talaga maiiyak pa talaga ako sa sobrang baho nung pinuntahan naming piggery (At first I nearly cried from the stench of the piggery we visited).”

Instead of listening to skeptics, Inocencio chose to take action: “Sometimes you have to work in silence and let your output make a noise.”

She maintained her scholarship in the university and found a calling in an organization called APEX: The UPLB Business Network, which supports agribusiness start-ups.

Aside from learning a totally unfamiliar field, Inocencio also had to deal with living on her own. Besides having to adjust to the traffic from Laguna to Makati, she also had to sacrifice time with her family, at times only coming home once a month.

But just as she learned to appreciate her course, she learned to love Los Baños: “I thought it would be hard for me but surprisingly Los Baños felt like home. Hindi lang kasi ako yung may ganung situation (It’s not just me in that situation), actually a lot of students there are away from their home.”

Anything but ‘a poor man’s career’

Even back home, she faced misconceptions about her field of study. “Magiging magsasaka ka daw after mo makagraduate (You’ll become a farmer after you graduate, they said). I usually hear that with some of my friends here in Makati,” she reveals.

“I observed din na may notion na kapag nasa ganitong industry ka, wala kang mararating (I also observed that there was a notion that if you entered this industry, you won’t get anywhere),” Inocencio noted.

Enrollment statistics reflect the negative view towards a career in agriculture. In 2012, UPLB reported that only 4.7 percent of their student population were taking up agriculture studies. Back in 1995, the number was at 43 percent.

However, Inocencio learned quickly how significant her course was: “Agriculture and Agribusiness is far more beyond the misconception of being a poor man’s career. This country needs more professionals that will utilize our resources to feed the ever-growing population.”

“I want to make more millennials be engaged in agriculture,” she said. “I want to pull them into knowing that playing a role in the economy would need them to be involved in agriculture.”

She hopes more youth will enroll in agriculture-related courses: “Agribusiness industry is one of the smartest career paths to take. Whether you are looking for a company that you fit in with, a competitive salary, or you want to make a difference, the agribusiness sector has a wide variety of jobs to choose from that it is easy to find what suits you best.”

While social media has helped serve as a sounding board, as many in the industry have recommended, Inocencio suggests that agriculture must be taught early in childhood to change the culture towards it, and she hopes for people to see it as a vast field of opportunities.

So far, agriculture is visible in basic education through senior high school. Under the K to 12 program, some schools offer agriculture and fisheries through the Technical-Vocational-Livelihood track.

After she graduates on June 23, Inocencio plans to take the Civil Service Exam and work for the government. She is also seeking work at agribusiness companies.

“I want to provide for my family and for my future studies since I want to have a Masters degree. After that, I will put up my own agribusiness start-up,” she shares. I want to make a change. I want to see the agribusiness sector progress.”

Inocencio hopes that views on working in agriculture will change from being a dead-end, directionless path to one that could be lucrative.

Agribusiness Management can lead you anywhere. In terms of employment opportunities, it has a wide scope, in research, farming business or other science-related careers,” she explains. “You can choose to work in the corporate world or in the industry.”

“And the demand for this course when it comes to employment opportunities will be almost the same every year since we need to eat and the food we eat needs to be processed and analyzed,” she explained.

With more awareness on the industry, Inocencio looks forward to the day when Filipinos will see that “one does not need to be a doctor or engineer to accumulate wealth, but be an agribusinessman or agripreneur instead as a career choice.” JB

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TAGS: agribusiness, Agriculture, Graduation, Los Baños, undergraduate program, University of the Philippines, University of the Philippines Los Banos
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