GENERAL SANTOS CITY (MindaNews / 4 March) – Around 50,000 farmers and their dependents from various parts of the country are set to benefit from a P500-million scholarship program for agricultural trainings that will be opened this year by the Technical Education Skills and Development Authority (TESDA).
Senator Cynthia Villar, chair of the Senate Committee on Agriculture and Food, said her office is currently working with TESDA and other concerned agencies for the nationwide rollout of the scholarship program, which will mainly focus on agriculture-related technical-vocational courses and skills trainings.
She said the scholarship slots will be offered to farmers and laborers, their children or dependents and other interested individuals.
Villar said her office has been coordinating with the country’s 454 state colleges and universities for the offering of various agricultural courses and trainings.
The initial courses and skills trainings lined up are the handling, repair and maintenance of agricultural machineries as well as financial literacy, she said.
“We will educate our farmers how to operate agricultural machineries and at the same time on how to repair and maintain them,” said Villar, who graced a gathering of farmers and local government leaders of Region 12 in Tupi, South Cotabato on Tuesday.
She said it is important for farmers to obtain such skills so they could maximize the benefits of the national government’s continuing farm mechanization program.
She cited a case in Pampanga wherein a group of farmers were able to avail of a number of farm machineries from the Department of Agriculture but were not able to maintain them due to the lack of proper skills.
In terms of financial literacy, she said farmers and fisherfolk should have basic knowledge on accounting so they could properly manage their ventures.
“They should be trained also on how to apply for loans from banks and micro-financing institutions so they would no longer depend on the loan sharks,” she said.
She cited that a lot of farmers have been forced to avail of loans with prohibitive interest rates from loan sharks as they don’t even know how to fill up bank loan application forms.
Villar said she personally pushed for the opening of the scholarship program during a hearing at the Senate last year for TESDA’s 2015 budget.
The senator said she initially questioned then the agency’s officials as to why they allotted a significant budget for Business Process Outsourcing (BPO)-related trainings.
She argued that while BPO is considered a “sunshine industry” in the country, it only employs around one million workers that is way lower when compared to the estimated 11.8 million working in the agriculture sector.
She said TESDA eventually allotted under its 2015 budget some P500 million to fund the opening of 50,000 scholarship slots for agricultural trainings.
“We’re now working double time to find these 50,000 scholars because once we fail, TESDA will remove the item in its budget for next year,” she said.
Villar added that the 50,000 scholarship slots will be divided among the country’s 81 provinces and with each getting around 600 slots.