I grew up in a small scale farmer’s family in 1970s, just like over 3/4th of the youth who live in rural areas of developing countries, mostly sustaining on agriculture.
My parents would do all farming activities, hardly discussing with me any issues concerning agriculture. They would neither ask me to join in their day to day work nor teach me about crops being grown, harvested and sold. Growing up there was no role for me in my household as far as farming was concerned. I was thus, totally detached from the farming activities and was just concentrating on my studies. Maybe my parents realized farming is not lucrative enough and I must focus on my studies to do something better than farming. Or maybe it is because I used to see my parents toiling hard and clearly it was a back breaking vocation for small-scale farmers like my parents then and still it is almost the same hard work now. I had no way to reduce their drudgery. I did not have any ideas on how to help them and maybe even no motivation to contribute to farming. Unfortunately, the scenario has not changed much, when I see young people in my village.
Unlike many of my friends and contemporaries in my village, I was lucky to get admission in the Govind Ballabh Pant University of Agriculture and Technology, Pantnagar, where I graduated in Agriculture in 1984. Now I am not only holding a PhD degree in Extension Education but also serving as an Agricultural Extension Education scientist with Indian Council of Agricultural Research. I know it very well and it’s sad to say; only a few have been as lucky as me. The rest have to spend their lives farming or migrate to cities searching for jobs, which again is not so easy.
Many years after growing up in an environment where agriculture is not seen as an important career for young people, I realize that the potential youth groups are largely ignored in policies and programs leading to disenchantment among them for agriculture. What is there for youth that they will love doing agriculture? This is an important question and unless we work on providing skills to young people in agriculture, give them the voice at the policy level, and in the media, and encourage them through meaningful programs they will not feel this passion and love for agriculture. The Extension and Advisory Services (EAS) must engage young people in innovations and entrepreneurial activities or else they will continue migrating to cities in search of better options for living. The way agriculture is being practiced, at least in developing countries like India, lack glamour, and this is the hard truth.
I feel the Extension and Advisory Services (EAS) professionals too are responsible for making agriculture less attractive to youth. In our surveys of farmers, almost every time we make the head of the households as respondents, and we ignore the potential future farmers- the young ones in the family. The financial services also do not consider youth for financing agriventures, for the want of collaterals as often youth lack ownership of land. The elders in the family hardly take suggestions from youth on what to grow and how to do farming- youth are not taken seriously anywhere. Also, the EAS contact the eldest in the family and mostly men, to interact on farming matters, while the older farmers are less likely to accept new ideas. It is our mindset which is eschewed in favor of adults preferably males. This way of thinking needs to be changed and the sooner the better.
The EAS has a crucial role to play here by targeting youth, engaging them to make farming a profitable and attractive venture as I wrote once, Agricultural extension services should tap the energy and creativity of rural youth to transform agricultural sector.
Additionally, the EAS must catch them young, motivate and skill them, handhold them, instill in them the needed confidence and link them with agricultural markets. Once they experience income, coming to them through their engagement in farming activities, they might start falling in love with it.
At my institute the Indian Veterinary Research Institute (ICAR), through extension activities focused on rural youth, we are gaining some success. When we organized these youth and trained them on some vocation like piggery and mushroom production and linked them to market, they were not only inspired but also inspiring other young people in their villages. They enjoy being recognized, reading their stories in newspapers, farm magazines, blog posts and sharing their experiences via radio & TV. Some of them are active on social media too, highlighting their successes.
Finally, I urge to Extension and Advisory services sector to engage more with Youth- the future farmers!
Photo credits: Dr. Mahesh Chander
Blog post by Mahesh Chander (dr mahesh. chander (at)gmail.com), Head, Division of Extension Education, ICAR- Indian Veterinary Research Institute.The views expressed are personal, and cannot be attributed to ICAR or YPARD.