Youth engagement in agricultureIf there are high-paying jobs in the country, youths will have no reason to go abroad.
Without a doubt, the agriculture sector needs to feed the world’s burgeoning population today and in the days to come even as it copes with myriad problems. The increased number of ageing farmers is one problem which is globally discussed these days. The involvement of youths in any sector indicates its strength, performance, and attract ability. Infusing fresh blood into any system makes it productive and dynamic. Youths have the capacity and desire to introduce innovation in the system, adjust to change, take risks whenever necessary and adopt suitable risk managing strategies. This makes the system profitable and sustains it for a long period of time.
In Nepal, about 65.6 percent of the population is directly or indirectly dependent on agriculture for their livelihood, according to the Ministry of Agriculture and Livestock Development. The National Youth Policy 2015 clearly describes youths as citizens within the age bracket of 16 to 40 years. Approximately 40.35 percent of the total population of Nepal falls under this category. This situation, called youth bulge, can serve as a demographic gift. About 14 percent of the total youth population is found to be living abroad for employment and education.
There is an urgent need to address this situation and make youths work in the country with their future guaranteed. Youths should be seen as assets for transforming Nepal and utilising their unique skills and talents in agriculture instead of pushing them abroad for remittance. If agriculture is made remunerative and rewarding in terms of income and profitability, youths will indeed be attracted to the sector.
According to the Global Alliance for Improved Nutrition, more than half of the farmers in the US are 55 years or older, the average age of farmers in Sub-Saharan Africa is around 60 years. As cited by the European Union, only 5.6 percent of all European farms are run by farmers younger than 35 while more than 31 percent of all farmers are older than 65 years. In Japan, the average age of farmers is 67 years. These developed and opulent countries have invented alternative techniques. They have emphasised replacing retiring growers with country-developed autonomous tractors and backpack-carried sophisticated robots.
With an increased number of greying farmers in Nepal, it is clear that Nepali agriculture needs to attract more young people. It should be modernised and turned into a cash earning business. The task is exacting. Still many in society don’t consider it to be a viable sector for employment, and it remains highly unattractive due to the associated risks, and its intensive nature and low profitability. Few young people see a future for themselves in agriculture. We cannot expect youths to become involved in agriculture before making it attractive to them in terms of its image and economic returns.
To promote youth engagement in agriculture, the first thing that needs to be done is improve its image. There are many adults who have earned a tidy sum engaging in agriculture. These model farms and farmers need to be identified, and the information and experience need to be shared using various media. Happily, there are many educated adults who are engaged in this sector because they see a future in it.
They have successfully used modern technology and machinery. They are able to manage highly sophisticated farms. These youths have increased access to information and communications technology, and they have gained knowledge and experience and observed successful farms abroad. This has given them a keen desire to join this sector. They are able to harvest more than traditional farmers in terms of per unit area of land. The adoption of high yield varieties, increased use of fertiliser and irrigation, well managed plant protection measures and product selection based on market trends have made them successful farmers.
Lack of capital
Lack of capital has tied the hands of many youths although they have good ideas and knowledge, and wish to work in agriculture. To deal with this problem, a soft loan policy should be strictly implemented with less red tape. Furthermore, all farms need to be protected in the initial stage. The establishment of a start-up agri-business incubator centres can encourage youths provided it has qualified and experienced manpower and other resources. Agri insurance should be made universal. A market for their products should be guaranteed at least until the payback period.
Finally, when youths have plenty of evidence to show that doing business in the country is far better than going abroad, no one will want to leave their family members for many years. Retaining youths in the country and engaging them in profitable agricultural jobs will make the country self-sufficient in agri-produce and stimulate the rural economy.
With multiplier effects, this will accelerate other sectors of the economy besides eliminating many social problems.
Bhandari is agricultural extension officer at the Department of Agriculture, Nepal.