Youth as catalysts of accelerated agricultural and rural development

Opportunities for rural youth entrepreneurs are several. If educated youth choose to live in villages and launch the new agriculture movement, based on the integrated application of science and social wisdom, our untapped demographic dividend will become our greatest strength.

For young people to take to agriculture, farming must be both intellectually satisfying and economically rewarding.

I call upon the youth in this country to follow the Gandhian principle of giving the greatest importance and respect to farmers and farming. While visiting the National Dairy Research Institute, Bangalore, on 27 June, 1927 Mahatma Gandhi wrote in the Visitors’ Book “Farmer” against the column titled “occupation”. He also used to emphasise that Gram Swaraj is the pathway to Poorna Swaraj.

Lal Bahadur Shastri later gave the slogan “Jai Jawan, Jai Kisan” to stress that Jawans and Kisans are the two pillars of our freedom. The extreme volatility of the price of food grains in the international market emphasizes that the future belongs to nations with grains and not guns.

For young people to take to agriculture, farming must be both intellectually satisfying and economically rewarding. This will call for a technological and managerial upgradation of farm operations. We have to harness the best in frontier science and marry it with the best in traditional knowledge and ecological prudence. Such a blend leads to the science of ecotechnology. In addition to ecotechnology, Universities have to develop excellence in biotechnology, space technology, nuclear technology, nanotechnology, renewable energy and management technology. The Universities in India should enable every scholar to become an entrepreneur. I would like to share some thoughts on launching a Youth for Agricultural Transformation Movement.

During his recent visit to India, US President Barack Obama pointed out that India is fortunate to have over half of its total population of 1.2 billion under the age of 30. Out of the 600 million young persons, over 60 per cent live in villages. Most of them are educated. Mahatma Gandhi considered the migration of educated youth from villages to towns and cities as the most serious form of brain drain adversely affecting rural India’s development. He, therefore, stressed that we should take steps to end the divorce between intellect and labour in rural professions.

The National Commission on Farmers stressed the need for attracting and retaining educated youth in farming. The National Policy for Farmers, placed in Parliament in November 2007, includes the following goal- “to introduce measures which can help to attract and retain youth in farming and processing of farm products for higher value addition, by making farming intellectually stimulating and economically rewarding”. At present, we are deriving very little demographic dividend in agriculture.

On the other hand, the pressure of population on land is increasing and the average size of a farm holding is going down to below one hectare. Farmers are getting indebted and the temptation to sell prime farmland for non-farm purposes is growing. Over 45 per cent of farmers interviewed by the National Sample Survey Organisation wanted to quit farming. Under these conditions, how are we going to persuade educated youth, including farm graduates, to stay in villages and take to agriculture as a profession? How can youth earn a decent living in villages and help shape the future of our agriculture? This will require a three-pronged strategy.

– through appropriate land use policies, technologies and market linkages; develop for this purpose a “4C approach”, i.e., Conservation, Cultivation, Consumption and Commerce.

– Enlarge the scope for the growth of agro-processing, agroindustries and agribusiness and establish a “Farm to Home” chain in production, processing and marketing.

– Promote opportunities for the services sector to expand in a manner that will trigger the technological and economic upgradation of farm operations.

Some years ago, the Government of India launched a programme to· enable farm graduates to start agri-clinics and agri-business centres. This programme is yet to attract the interest of educated youth to the degree originally expected. It is hence time that the programme is restructured based on the lessons learnt. Ideally, a group of four to five farm graduates, who have specialised in agriculture, animal husbandry, fisheries, agribusiness and home science, could jointly launch an agri-clinic-cum-agri-business centre in every block of the State.

Agri-clinics will provide the services needed during the production phase of farming, while the agri-business centre will cater to the needs of farm families during the past-harvest phase of agriculture. Thus, farm women and men can be assisted during the entire crop cycle, starting with sowing and extending up to value addition and marketing.

The multidisciplinary expertise available within the group of young entrepreneurs will help them, to serve farm families in a holistic manner. The home science graduate can pay particular attention to nutrition and food safety and processing and help a group of farm women to start a food processing park. The group should also assist farm families to achieve economy and power of scale, both during the production and past-harvest phases of farming, such an integrated centre can be named “Agricultural Transformation Centre”.

Opportunities for young entrepreneurs are several. Climate resilient agriculture is another area that needs attention. In dry farming areas, methods of rainwater harvesting and storage, aquifer recharge and watershed management as well as the improvement of soil physics, chemistry and microbiology, need to be spread widely. The cultivation of fertiliser trees which can enrich soil fertility and help to improve soil carbon sequestration and storage can be promoted under the Green India Mission as well as the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee programme. A few fertiliser trees, a jal kund (water harvesting pond) and a biogas plant in every farm will help to improve enormously the productivity and profitability of dryland farming. In addition, they will contribute to climate change mitigation.

The “yuva kisans” or young farmers can also help women’s selfhelp groups to manufacture and sell the biological software essential for sustainable agriculture. These will include biofertilisers, biopesticides and vermiculture. The Fisheries graduate can promote both inland and marine aquaculture, using low external input sustainable aquaculture (LEISA) techniques. Feed and seed are the important requirements for successful aquaculture and trained youth can promote their production at the local level. They can train rural families in induced breeding of fish and spread quality and food safety literacy.

Similar opportunities exist in the fields of animal husbandry. Improved technologies of small-scale poultry and dairy farming can be introduced. Codex alimentarius standards of food safety can be popularised in the case of perishable commodities. For this purpose, the young farmers should establish Gyan Chaupals or Village Knowledge Centres. Such centres will be based on the integrated use of the internet, FM Radio and mobile telephony.

In the services sector designed to meet the demand driven needs of farming families, an important one is soil and water quality testing. Young farmers can organise mobile soil cum water quality testing work and go from village to village in the area of their operation and issue a Farm Health Passbook to every family. Farm Health Passbook will contain information on soil health, water quality, and crop and animal diseases, so that the farm family has access to integrated information on all aspects of Farm Health. Very effective and reliable soil and water quality testing kits are now available. This will help rural families to utilise in an effective manner the nutrient based subsidy introduced by the government from April 1, 2010. Similarly, young educated youth could help rural communities to organise gene-seed-grain-water banks, thereby linking conservation, cultivation, consumption and commerce in a mutually reinforcing manner:

Young farmers can also operate climate risk management centres, which will help farmers to maximise the benefits of a good monsoon and minimise the adverse impact of unfavourable weather. Educated youth can help to introduce the benefits of information, space, nuclear, bio- and eco-technologies. Ecotechnology involves the blend of traditional wisdom and frontier technology. This is the pathway to sustainable agriculture and food security, as well as agrarian prosperity. If educated youth choose to live in villages and launch the new agriculture movement, based on the integrated application of science and social wisdom, our untapped demographic dividend will become our greatest strength.

(Excerpts from the paper presented in Inter-disciplinary Dialogue on Reaping the Demographic Dividend in agriculture and Rural Development”, February 19-21, 2011, M S Swaminathan Research Foundation, Chennai.)

Prof. M S Swaminathan
M S Swaminathan Research Foundation, 3rd Cross Street, Institutional Area, Taramani, Chennai – 600113

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