Growing Young: Making Agriculture Cool

By Neha Ahlawat and Ipsita Mitra

Agriculture still remains one of the mainstays of rural livelihoods in India. While we have been trying to gain insights into how rural livelihoods can be improved through strengthening agriculture, our efforts have also been towards understanding what role innovation can play in driving these efforts. As it was pointed out in one of our earlier blogs, the challenges lie not only in knowledge gaps, financial exclusion and inaccessible technology, but also in the domain of the social structure itself.

One of the key questions highlighted in the Nimble Agriculture breakout session, at Design Public 4, was around the role of rural youth; what deters them from joining the agricultural force and/or how can they be retained in the sector? In this blog, let’s try and understand why the disinterest of rural youth does not come as a surprise by looking at some of the opportunities and roadblocks.

Today, the average age of an Indian farmer is 60, and counting. The country is in a danger of failing to meet its agricultural potential if it does not get younger people involved. If we look at the statistics, about 65 percent of the Indian population is still dependent on agriculture and allied sectors for livelihood, which actually presents a great opportunity to harness the agricultural workforce by training the rural youth. However, often agriculture is not considered to be economically viable and there are concerns that young people no longer see it as a lucrative profession. There are massive pressures for young people to migrate to urban areas. And today,this is not just the story of India but many other countries. At a broader scale, if we are successful in bringing youth back to agriculture it will not only help in dealing with the issue of unemployment but also food crisis and poverty.

So what exactly does the rural youth want?

  • Skills training and education which would help them find work
  • Scope for growth and development
  • Accessibility and Decision making power

In order to tackle these issues at hand and to make agriculture more accessible to the youth there is a need to introduce changes in every agri-allied sector- agricultural policy environment, local cooperative structures, education and technology. Let us now try to analyse how changes in each of the above mentioned sectors will impact youth inclusion in agriculture.

Beginning with policy level changes, the policy environment needs to be made more conducive to the demands of youth, giving them a voice that matters. A supportive policy environment should include the youth in decision making processes and ensure that their interests are given due consideration. This could eventually lead to building trust for better partnerships between the people and the government. Including the youth in the decisions making process will create a sense of belonging, engagement as well as responsibility. Youth inclusion should be taken a step further and should be extended to village cooperatives and other such organised bodies like cooperative societies, village industries, rural units etc. The structural constraint of lack of accessibility could be overcome by engaging with and making the youth wings of these cooperatives more active.

Education process should be given a thought, the process should be oriented to help the rural youth secure jobs in the agricultural sector. If training and capacity building are focused on developing skills of the rural youth in accordance with the demands of the agricultural sector, they will begin to see agriculture as a skill-driven and feasible employment option. In our previous blog, we talked about cluster initiatives, a University-Industry linkage model derived from such cluster innovation models could be an approach where universities and rural industries work in collaboration to train the rural youth. The added advantage of engaging the rural youth in the industries is that it could help portray the agricultural sector in a positive light.

Information and technology interventions with youth inclusion are also offering greater opportunities for changing the present scenario. The youth has far more exposure, willingness and capacity to adopt and adapt to technology than the older generation. In the recent past, both private and government organization have launched various ICT enabled programs, for instance the Government of India initiated the Digital mandi/e-mandi– an electronic trading platform for agro-communities, to bring agricultural information to the mobile phones of the farmers. While the virtual support extended by the Government to the farmers could be seen as a positive step, the uptake would have increased dramatically if the youth were also brought into this process to establish the link between technology and the end beneficiaries.

A gradual move towards engaging the youth in agriculture could also open up possibilities for several other innovations in the sector, leading to an increase in adoption of demand-driven services such as farm health monitoring and enhancement, production and marketing of  software essential for sustainable agriculture, organisation of bioparks, food parks, bio-villages, bioindustrial watersheds and improved post-harvest technology to name a few.

Involving the youth and increasing youth stakeholdership in agriculture is a slow and gradual process but the opportunities are many, it is only a matter of time and correct approach that the sector will contribute manifold to the overall growth and development of the country.

About Neha Ahlawat

Neha Ahlawat is Associate Director- Innovation at the Center for Knowledge Societies. She is interested in exploring new approaches in ethnographic inquiry and design analysis for guiding social innovation and seeking integration between business development and design strategy.
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