Dalbir Singh wants stability and decent income in life. His father, a farmer from Bareta (Mansa) in Punjab, has had a tough life.
“There were years when we were a bit rich, and then there were others where the situation was hand-to-mouth. My father left his job thinking that he was educated, and hence could add better value to the family’s farming. But the weather was unpredictable, and the markets were whimsical. Neither were the meteorological department reports of much help nor was the announced MSP helpful. This has been a vicious cycle over the years. Being a clerk is much more decent than being a farmer”.
This is the story of Dalbir and many more youngsters not in Punjab only but across the country belonging to farming families.
Policymakers and government departments are not engaging with the youth. Overlooking their needs and aspirations have given rise to negative perceptions about agriculture as a profession.
Per the 16th Annual Status of Education Report (ASER) of 2021, “42 per cent of youth aged 14–18 years are working, regardless of whether they are enrolled in formal education or not. Of these, 79 per cent work in agriculture, almost all on their own family’s farm. Yet only 1.2 per cent aspire to become farmers”. Recent figures from NSSO indicate that 76 per cent would prefer to take up some other vocation. The 24 per cent who are keen to continue, do so only because it was their ancestral calling.
Most rural youth are not inclined to return to agriculture. This is 35 per cent of the Indian population in the 15–35 years age group and 75 per cent of those residing in rural areas. Their migration will impact agriculture.
Farmers Ageing Abandonment
The ageing of farmers the world over is likely to influence the growth of agriculture. An average American farmer is 58 years old, while in Japan the age is 67 and the average age of the Indian farmer is 52 years. There may not be enough able-bodied farmers to feed the world in a single generation. In the absence of human resource participation, the economic potential of agriculture would drop drastically, leading to perhaps a further slump in the income of agricultural households.
Meanwhile, youth are now more qualified and tech-savvy. They do not lack drive, and are aware of basic management principles and have some business nous. These attributes point to the possibility to train present-day youth in agriculture-specific entrepreneurship. However, before looking at agriculture as a viable source of livelihood, youth will consider other sources of income.
A young agripreneur is likely to look for aspects of agriculture enterprise or allied activities that are risk-free and generate stable income. To gain such profits, farm activities will have to be diversified with cash-yielding, low-volume, high value and market-driven quality output. One way of making farming lucrative is to use a combination of sunrise crops like flowers and exotic vegetables, multiple and vertical use of farmland, dairy farming, fisheries and poultry.
Agri-Farmers to Agripreneurs
The government should institutionalise youth-specific schemes facilitating farmer producer organisations’ (FPOs) unhindered access to technical, financial, supply chain and marketing support. Change in land use may be needed to enable setting up of processing plants on the farm gate.
Archaic clauses must be waived, allowing for value addition, which minimises waste and maximises income and employment generation.
The Writer is Vice-Chairman Sonalika and Vice-Chairman of Punjab Economic Policy and Planning Board