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Dying breed

No, not the drug dealers who are about to become extinct, but Filipino farmers whose average age today stands at 57-65. Where will he be 30 years from today? Where will we be when there are no farmers left to plant the rice for our daily bread?

“The Filipino farmer is a dying breed,” states Joseph Calata, who heads a publicly listed company that recently launched Calata Foundation to send 15 agriculture graduates to Argentina to study microfinancing, soil testing, and postharvest subjects like marketing.

As his first step to inspire or save the next generation of farmers, the 36-year-old chairman and CEO of Calata Corp. has donated R2 million to a scholarship fund of De La Salle Araneta University. The next step is to search for partners who will send the 15 to Argentina, at an estimated cost of US$10,000 each.

Why Argentina? Joseph’s friends are from Argentina, including Coco Krause and Nico Bolzico, husband of Solenn Heussaff. Coco and Nico list their profession as farmers. “In Argentina, agriculture is the No. 1 industry, and farmers there are millionaires,” explains Coco. “Nico and I, we love it here. With Joseph, we want to see Filipino farmers leaving their poverty behind and learning how to get rich.”

As a supplier of fertilizer, seeds, crop protection products, etc., Calata Corp. made Joseph a billionaire in 2012.

Looking back, he “harvested” his first victory by upgrading his mother Isabel’s “simple-looking” store in Plaridel, Bulacan, to the millennial age by providing it with a computer and a single salesman. “Whoever heard of a computer and a salesman working for a ‘baduy’ store?” Joseph kidded. But there it was, the sweet smell of success. ”If we don’t take care of our farmers – let them be entrepreneurs – what will my children eat when the planting stops? I’m being selfish here, for without farmers to buy our goods, does the company have a future?”

Luckily for Calata and company, this is what Agriculture Secretary Manny Piñol said at his oath-taking: “We must be rice-sufficient. It’s a must, not a choice.” And from the gospel of St. Luke last Sunday: “The harvest is abundant but the laborers are few.” (Jullie Y. Daza)