Aging may not be a serious menace for India as yet, but the same cannot be said about its farm sector. Hardly 5 per cent of the youth are engaged in agriculture though over 60 per cent of the rural people derive their livelihood fully or partly from farming and its related activities. Clearly, the modern youth are disenchanted with agriculture and are shunning it as a profession. The farming population is, consequently, getting old. It bodes ill for the future of agriculture as it may hold it from growing to its full potential.
The involvement of youth in agriculture is vital as they are more energetic, productive and receptive to new ideas and advanced technologies. Besides, they have the guts to take risks and go against the tide which is badly needed in the farm sector. Agriculture requires both brawn and brain in addition to enthusiasm and enterprise which only youth can provide.
However, like their urban counterparts, the rural youth are also looking for better career and growth prospects which they do not foresee in rural areas. The failure of development programmes and policies to make farming profitable and adequately improve the quality of life in the rural belt has added to the youth’s aversion to agriculture and village life. The other causes for the outmigration of youth are: Shrinking land holdings; paucity of innovative ideas and technical knowhow; inadequate access to finance; absence of efficient marketing; limited involvement in decision-making processes and policy matters; and, most importantly, poor image of farming as a profession. These issues need to be addressed urgently and holistically to motivate the youth to stay back in villages.
The realisation of the need to sustain youth’s interest in agriculture has come about rather late. The National Commission on Farmers, headed by noted farm expert M S Swaminathan, had made a case for it in its report in 2006. This had led to the inclusion of this issue in the National Policy for Farmers, adopted by Parliament in 2007, as one of its objectives. Some concrete initiatives have, no doubt, ensued since then, but these have remained confined to limited areas only. The unique programme of the Indian Council of Agricultural Research called ARYA (Attracting and Retaining Youth in Agriculture), launched in 2015-16, has also been limited till now to 25 districts in as many states. Only recently has the Union cabinet approved its extension to 100 districts to impart vocational training to about 1.4 million youth annually.
To steer these programmes in the right direction, a road map has recently been formulated in a conference in New Delhi on “motivating and attracting youth in agriculture” (MAYA). This was organised jointly by several national and international bodies engaged in promoting knowledge-based agriculture. The mooted strategy aims basically at preparing the youth to become employment providers and agents of change rather than employment seekers, maintains R S Paroda, chairman of the Trust for Advancement of Agricultural Sciences, one of the leading organisers of this event.
The MAYA road map envisages offering the youth a variety of avenues and opportunities for economic growth, social respect and application of modern technologies in farming and allied activities. With suitable grooming, the educated rural youth can be involved in services like agri-clinics to advise farmers on controlling crop diseases, pests and weeds and solving their other day-to-day problems. They can set up agri-service centres to offer custom-hiring facilities for small and marginal farmers for mechanising their farm operations to enhance productivity with reduced cost.
It also proposes involvement of youth in the marketing of farmers’ produce through physical and online markets (like electronic National Agriculture Market or e-NAM) and procurement of farm inputs on behalf of them at best bargained prices. The government, on its part, needs to provide sops like investment grants, soft loans and other facilities to the agri-business startups of rural youth. These and other well-conceived propositions that may appeal to the youth merit urgent consideration and implementation.