The more I read on youth mentoring, especially YPARD’s mentoring programmes, the more I got inspired and tempted to mentor young people. My visit to Nikki Chaudhary’s dairy farm in 2016, to witness first-hand her start-up in action, as a finalist of GFAR’s Youth Agripreneurs Project (YAP), was a pivotal moment in understanding the value of these mentoring programs.
Under Mentoring Rural Youth-2017 programme, one hundred rural youth are being mentored by the Agricultural scientists of ICAR- Indian Veterinary Research Institute, Izatnagar, a Partner in GFAR; specialists of Krishi Vigyan Kendra; and by the agripreneurs trained and promoted by the ICAR-Indian Veterinary Research Institute.
The youth, aged 17 to 25 years, are currently registered with the institute by paying just a token fee of US$1.75. In batches of 25 to 30, the youth are given motivational lectures, shown the demonstrations on innovative and improved agricultural practices at the institute research cum demonstration farm. In addition, they are taken on field trips to the farms and ventures of agripreneurs in the district where the agripreneurs share their experiences with the mentees. While interacting with these mentees, we found them having the ideas and ambition to become successful entrepreneurs, farmers, researchers and policy makers. But, they need motivation and guidance to instill in them the needed confidence. I strongly believe that a little support like this mentoring programme can go a long way.
Over the next 12 months, the mentees will be nurtured as innovative future farmers and agripreneurs. They are expected to remain in touch with the scientists and agripreneurs via mobile phones, farm radio programmes, social media channels like Facebook and WhatsApp and face to face interactions.
The why of the mentorship program
More often than not, farmers are portrayed as people with low esteem, shabbily dressed, ridden with poverty and backbreaking hardships creating a negative image of farming and farmers among youth. But, there are examples in India itself, wherein, even small scale farmers have done very well.
Listening these stories of poverty, hardships and poor returns from agriculture, the youth find agriculture unattractive and lacking in glamour. This is where lies the challenge for Rural Advisory Services (RAS) to play a game changer role. The RAS can and should play a proactive role in strengthening the knowledge, values, skills and services needed by youth to overcome the challenges they face and seize these opportunities. The Rural Youth Mentoring Programme-2017 being implemented by the Division of Extension Education of ICAR- Indian Veterinary Research Institute, is playing this role, with a very limited budget.
The RAS of State Agricultural and Veterinary Universities, agricultural development departments, NGOs etc can evaluate, adept and replicate this or similar models to mentor youth at various locations to empower them. This programme shows that RAS can effectively project a positive and attractive image of agriculture by right mentoring of rural youth towards retaining them in agriculture. The RAS should engage more with youth the future farmers.
Youth mentoring models and approaches like face to face, virtual, blended and group/peer mentoring needs to be explored, developed and piloted to explore strengths and limitations of each approach under different contexts to establish how mentoring can best benefit youth under different socio-economic and agricultural environment. The tested approaches can then be followed to mentor youth to engage them in agriculture as farmers and agripreneurs.
The future of agriculture depends on attracting young talented people who are prepared to balance risk and reward so that they can deliver the healthy food we need, in a way that gives them sufficient return for their labour and capital. Truly said thus, Mentoring changes lives and equipping young people to make a change in agriculture is important, since the future of agriculture depends on them.
In conclusion, I am happy to say, I am truly enjoying mentoring young boys and girls from rural areas. It’s a gratifying experience for me! YPARD inspired me to be a mentor and for that I am eternally grateful.
You can view more photos of the mentoring program on the Indian Veterinary Research Institute Facebook page.
Read more about the YAP finalist, Nikki Chaudhary, who inspired the author when he visited her dairy farm in 2016.