Rural Youth The Key to a Food Secure Future

Agriculture is a least preferred profession which has been witnessing decline in interest from the youth. For educated youth to select agriculture as a profession, it has to become intellectually satisfying and economically rewarding.
Rural Youth The Key to a Food Secure Future

Ask any ambitious young man or woman, what they wish for their future. Hardly any would mention agriculture – whether as a farmer, officer or researcher. Food production tends to be the last milestone, not a preferred choice of youth. This, however, raises the fundamental question: who will feed the global population which is projected to reach over 9 billions by 2050? The answer, apparently, lies in attracting and retaining youth in agriculture.

As it is the least preferred occupation, not only in India, the age profile of farmers around the world is rising. Just 6 percent of farmers in the EU are under 35; the average age of the American farmer is 56; in Australia 52 percent of farmers are aged 55 or older and the average age of farm owners in Africa is 60, as per the industry estimates.

“To motivate youth to participate in farming, it must be intellectually satisfying and economically rewarding,” explains MS Swaminathan, Chairman, MS Swaminathan Research Foundation.

Engaging Youth

India, however, is the youngest nation in the world, with nearly 70 percent of population below 35 years, and interestingly 70 percent of them in rural areas. In 2020, the average Indians will be only 29-year-old; whereas in the US and China, the average age is estimated to be 37 years. This offers India the possibility to utilise its demographic dividend, and can take Indian agriculture to the next level. This would not only help enhance agricultural productivity and deliver food security but also reduce rural-to-urban migration. It will be young farmers, with greater capacity for innovation and risk-taking, who can help address the emerging requirements of agriculture and thus, give a boost to the rural economy.

“Agriculture is not only sowing and harvesting; there are many other possibilities like input management, farm mechanisation, fabricating machinery, protected cultivation, precision farming, post-harvest value addition and management, quality assurance, food safety and getting market access to these products,” states Dr S Ayyappan, DG, Indian Council of Agricultural Research (ICAR). Prof Swaminathan opines, “To attract youth in farming we should introduce implements for small land holdings, which will help farmers reduce the need for manual labour."

To make agriculture a viable option, certain changes can alter the present scenario:

  • Add agriculture to the curriculum

Though majority of our population is dependent on farming for their livelihood, it has hardly gained increased attention in the present educational system. With lack of education, skills and knowledge, majority of the rural youth are not aware about the right opportunities in farming. “Rural youth have been observing their parents striving hard on the farms, but hardly earning a decent living. By doing traditional farming, farmers earn 1 lakh per acre in one year,” says Chetan Verma, a young successful strawberry farmer, from Gurdaspur in Punjab. Progressive farming could be the solution, unfortunately our universities don’t have sufficient knowledge at this front, he remarks.

  • Offer young farmers a voice

Despite the declining interest in agriculture, there are many young farmers who have broken the convention and have taken up farming as a full-time occupation. But to attract others to the sector it is vital to provide the young farmers a chance to offer their opinion, particularly at policy level. However, general experts seem to hold the anachronistic view that youth shouldn’t start agriculture immediately, but should initially take up marketing to get more exposure in the field.

KVS Prasad, Executive Director, AME Foundation, says, “Farmers face high risk in terms of their income security. They must be given due recognition and support, so that they need not be absorbed into any other sector.” The young farmer Verma suggests that the Government make a website for smart farming techniques, which can draw in youth into agriculture.

  • Technological upgradation

Application of technology can make agriculture more attractive for young people. For instance, mobile phones can help provide farmers updates on whether forecasts, crop prices and agriculture advisories. Such application can change their perception of conventional farming.  Prof Swaminathan says, “Technological upgrading will be essential for improving agricultural yield by increasing productivity and sustainability of small farms. Educated youth can provide demand-driven services such as soil health monitoring, climate risk management and improved post-harvest technology.”

International Crops Research Institute for the Semi-Arid Tropics (ICRISAT), for instance, has created many life-changing innovations for small-scale farmers, such as sustainable and inclusive technologies that are less labour intensive.

Dr William Dar, Director General of ICRISAT, says, “We have identified machine harvestable and herbicide tolerant chickpea breeding lines, currently being tested in various chickpea growing locations in India, which would help farmers by increased labour productivity and profitability.”

Chance to make a difference

Farming also provides youth an opportunity to be the generation that could end the world hunger and overcome the issue of malnutrition by growing enough food to feed the world.

Dr Cynthia Bantilan, Research Program Director, Markets, Institutions and Policies, ICRISAT, sees India’s farm labour scarcity as an opportunity. According to her, the scarcity actually creates a vast opportunity in making farming a more profitable business and in encouraging the youth and women back to farming.

Though agriculture faces many challenges, it can again attract youth by offering farmers proper education, technological support and a voice at policy level. As we look for solutions to feed a world of 9 billion people by 2050, it is this new generation who would help achieve global development by growing enough food for the world.

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