“Everybody needs food, nobody wants to grow it”, said Nana Patekar, recently, from a public platform. The actor-turned farmers’ activist was voicing a concern that we all need to think about. A doctor’s son wants to be a doctor, a lawyer’s son wants to be a lawyer, and an actor’s son wants to be an actor, but there’s hardly a farmer whose son wants to be a farmer. They are all heading, instead, to cities in search of work. Why? What can be done to make things better? We need to take a close look at the agriculture sector to come up with answers.
Twenty-five-year-old Satwinder Singh, from Punjab, decided to take up a 10-to-6 job as a business executive with an MNC in Gurgaon after completing his Masters from Delhi University. Going back to his village near Ludhiana where his family has been doing farming for generations was not even an option worth considering. He is happy with his job and the amenities of city life which he cannot dream of getting back home in the village. Satwinder is not the only one! His choice reflects a growing mindset —farming is not a career option for the country’s youth. It’s ironic considering that no other job can provide the same security as farming because people will always need food so there so is always money to be made. But the farming sector in in India is not attractive.
Current Scenario and Challenges
This is sad considering India is predominantly a rural economy. But, stark shortage of talent and manpower in the agriculture sector has become a matter of grave concern. Low productivity back-breaking work and quality of life in the villages dissuades youngsters to take up work and settle down here.
The average per capita food grain production in our country has seen a steady decline in the recent years. India currently tops the charts when it comes to the number of farmers’ suicides, which is again an indication of the poor state of agricultural economy. Limited artificial irrigation facilities, high cost of agricultural inputs (such as HYV seeds, fertilizers, crop enhancers, etc.) and modern technology-based machineries, and small and fragmented landholdings are the major problems that plague the Indian agriculture, forcing farmers to be dependent mostly on outdated technologies.
Moreover, India’s more than 50 agricultural universities churn out thousands of graduates every year who are either taking up jobs in the government agencies, financial institutions, NGOs, or the private sector, but hardly look upon agriculture as a profession worth pursuing. One reason for this is the rise of aspirations of the rural consumer since the opening up of the Indian economy. We are unable to deliver essential good/services/facilities to our villages. No wonder, farming fails to attract talent and may continue to do so, if necessary steps are not taken. Agriculture must be transformed so that it offers young people an appealing alternative to urban life.
The Solutions: What needs to be done
Clearly, development of the agricultural economy is crucial for dealing with the problem of talent crunch. Here are a few holistic solutions to resolve the crises and deal with the dichotomies that exist at almost every level of the agribusiness value chain:
Farmer Education: Community participation is indeed the cornerstone of rural development, and implementation of community measures can become successful with enhanced levels of farmer education at the grassroots level. There are probably two ways to do this—one, the Government through its agencies must educate farmers on the latest techniques of seed, agrochemical, and water usage for best yield outcomes, and two, a renewed focus must be put on vocational courses and skill education for people from remote villages, which will help in the creation of a bunch of future ready and progressive rural micro-entrepreneurs to make rural India self-sustainable. Improvements in rural infrastructure such as electricity supplies and access to subsidies and credit could go a long way to support older farmers and encourage their children to stay in farming.
Use of ICT: Leveraging Information and communication technology (ICT) has the potential to create a revolution in the agriculture industry. Be it customized messaging services for weather forecast or use of GPS-based technology for farm-to-folk tracking or renewable energy for power tillage, embracing the right balance of smart, sustainable, and futuristic technologies can make agriculture a viable career option for young Indians. Value added services like Dial for FM or soil testing apps can make farming more interesting and less secluded occupation.
Building Research Capacity: With ever-increasing supply-side constraints in agriculture, Research & Development (R&D) holds the potential to offer long-term solutions for Indian agriculture. Research & Development is surely associated with agricultural productivity. It can also help in overcoming other issues such as seed problems, pest and disease problems, crop sustainability, climate change, irrigation problems, soil erosion, and so on. In fact, adoption of scientific farming practices can revolutionize the dynamics of the whole sector, and once the sector comes to realize this, participation from youth innovators is bound to increase.
Indian agriculture has transformed significantly post-Independence. Multiple factors such as growth in household income, expansion in food processing markets, and increase in agricultural exports has facilitated double digit growth in the sector. But somewhere down the lane, the thrust to project agriculture as an attractive and rewarding career for the youth is still missing, which is leading to the widening talent shortage. Very often, people from the rural areas are somewhat forced to move to cities in the search of better opportunities. In recent times, we have seen efforts in the right direction to mitigate the inadequacies in infrastructure in the rural markets. Technology, coupled with right education and innovation can pave the way for a better outlook for this sector.
Government, corporates, agricultural research institutions and all other stakeholders must come forward together to portray the empowerment of the modern day Indian farmer and move past the rural development agenda which only focuses on poverty alleviation. If agriculture is to be attractive it has to change. If the PM’s recent pronouncements and the Union Budget are any indication, it is happening. Farmers and rural development figured high in this year’s Budget speech and the allocation for these sectors is up by 24%. A host of new schemes with generous central allocations, aimed at revitalising the rural economy, will hopefully give farming the much need turnaround and make it worthwhile for the youth.
( The writer is a Managing Director, Crystal Crop Protection. His views are personal)