How old was that farmer again?

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If I asked you to picture a farmer, you would probably think of an elderly man strenuously tending to his crops. A perfect example of how agriculture is growing old in our minds.

The role of youth in agriculture is one of the major topics being discussed at the High Level Policy Dialogue on Investment for Sustainable Development in Asia and the Pacific. If we are to grow a new future for agriculture one key area is to “look at rural and youth employment”, says Mark Holderness of the Global Forum on Agricultural Research (GFAR).

Most of the youth in villages tend to move to cities in search of new jobs and better lives. Usually farming is portrayed as a lowly job, unappealing as a career, and definitely not the job for a youngster. Fluctuating market prices and unpredictable weather are also some of the usual reasons for potential young farmers to move to cities looking for more stable jobs.

However, some of the research presented at the conference brought out some thought-provoking work currently underway in engaging youth in agriculture.

Dr Dyno Keatinge of the World Vegetable Centre explained that training young farmers in peri-urban horticulture is one way to stop out-migration of youth. (View his presentation).  Making agriculture “sexy” and attractive to youth is the key. Things are moving in a better direction, but there is still a long way to go.

I also got a chance to sit with Dr Kalpana Sastry of ICAR – National Academy of Agricultural Research Management (NAARM), India, who attended the forum. I asked for her views on youth involvement in agriculture from her experiences.

“The topics of innovation, entrepreneurship and youth were some of the crucial points discussed at this conference. As highlighted by some researchers, agriculture as a lucrative industry is one of the best ways of attracting youth into the field. But, undoubtedly we need to create an appealing space for youth in the field of agriculture,” Dr Kalpana confirmed.

This engagement needs to begin with research and development (R&D). Most countries are already working on this by building young professional groups. She adds that NAARM is one such organization working on this in India.

Governments and institutions need to look in to providing necessary training for young farmers, including more supportive government policies and programs for family farmers.

Information Communication Technology (ICT) provides an excellent opportunity to attract youth. The use of ICT mobile apps that provide instant weather alerts, rainfall percentages and other farming-related information is becoming increasingly popular among farmers in some countries.

There are plenty of young people who can create mobile apps. But perhaps for farming-related apps it is best to target rural community youth, especially those from farming families. This would prove to be more useful and valuable as they are already familiar with farming ways, particularly at the grassroots level. This way there is hope for rural youth who would rather not get their feet dirty.

“The younger generation is already technology-driven, and they are also more literate than their parents,” said Dr Kalpana. Technology can automatically transform the image of the conventional farmer to a more young or modernized farmer.

Climate smart agriculture, solar powered irrigation technology, drought resistant crops, horticulture, hydroponics, farming drones, biotechnology, smart phone technology, tractors on auto pilot, soil and crop sensors are only few of the advanced agriculture technologies that makes farming more innovative and less hectic nowadays.

With a little inspiration and aid young people can take their knowledge to the entrepreneur level. This will also encourage them to explore other innovative uses of agriculture, eventually stimulating a chain of rural-based careers.

Dr Kalpana was optimistic when she said that we are moving beyond the image of the old-aged farmer. “There are plenty of cases where diverse graduates and even professionals find their way back to farming. We need to capture those (experiences) and learn from them”.

“When we entered the agriculture research and development field we were mostly trained in providing solutions through our lab research. But over the last two decades things have changed. Now we have realized we need to connect with our end users. And it should start before we even start our research. We need problem solving solutions to fill in the current gaps in the field. We need all those in the value chain working together… And the role of youth has become the most important link in securing the future of agriculture.”

We need more youth in the picture if we are to revive agriculture around the world. It seems like we have the necessary understanding and even the technology; it’s just a matter of getting it out there and reaching out to youth.

Blogpost by Samurdhi Ranasinghe, #GCARD3 Social Reporter – s.ranasinghe(at)cgiar.org. Picture by Hamish John Appleby (IWMI)

This post is part of the live coverage during the #GCARD3 Regional Consultation for Asia and Pacific region. This post is written by one of our social reporters, and represents the author’s views only.


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