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Young in the Old: A case for youth in Indian Agriculture

Pakriti in a community meeting in IndiaIndia is a young country. Both in terms of it’s becoming an independent republic (66 years is not much in country-years!) as well as the population (India is said to be the youngest country in the world). More than half the workforce of this young country is engaged in the agriculture sector but what is alarming is the diminishing participation of the youth in agriculture. Education statistics are constantly on the rise and the youth’s aspirations diverging from the state of agriculture, as it knows now. 

It is therefore the right time to engage the youth in innovative processes and re-introduce them to agriculture. With the world food demands growing, agriculture-dependent economies like India have a whole new world opening up to them. Agriculture-related entrepreneurship will see an upsurge in opportunities and the youth can increase their stake by bringing about the necessary changes with their enthusiasm and energy. Agriculture needs a boost and the youth that populate the country have it in them to bring it about!

However, this enthusiasm needs to be channeled responsibly and lessons have to be learnt through experience and history. Sustainability, too, needs to be maintained. For that, there need to be networks between young people in agriculture globally. Innovations and ideas need to be shared and the learnings recorded. This is where forums like YPARD and GCARD aid the youth. They provide the network that links various youth around the world. They also connect these youth groups as stakeholders with larger agriculture related groups and bring to light the issues of youth in agriculture. The five key themes of the GCARD3 express this.

Being a young person who works not in agriculture, but on it, the exigencies of the youth is something I understand. I understand that the lure of agriculture has to be revamped and incentivized through various policy measures as well as interventions in the field. Most youth of the country are not aware of the progress being made globally and mostly view agriculture as something where their education will be useless and the work skill-less. However, it is this very education and skill of the youth that can be employed to converge the age-old practices of the farmers and the academic and research orientation of the government extension agencies. M.S. Swaminathan, the man who has been credited with the success of the Green Revolution in India, also has urged tapping in the huge young population of India for agriculture by making it more exciting and lucrative.

Uttarakhand, the state I work in is dealing with a lot of change. Being a Himalayan state, the agriculturalists were cut-off from the revolution that took place in the country in the 60s and 70s which ushered in the use of modern technology in agriculture. Therefore, people in the hills still practice agriculture the age-old way and have stayed away from fertilizers and hybrid seeds. This has become a blessing in disguise as the state in preparing to become an organic produce zone, following close at the heels of Sikkim (another Himalayan state) which has already been declared an organic state. However, Uttarakhand has also lost most of it’s youth to out-migration as they prefer to move to cities because agriculture is becoming increasingly difficult to practice with the small landholdings that characterize the region and the increase in crop-raids by animals.

However, with the state-government recognizing the potential of agriculture in the region, there needs to be a renewed effort to bring in the youth into its fold. The state is home to some of the best agriculture research institutions and has the ability to make this change in a big way. A concentrated effort by the state-government, the agriculture extensions as well the various NGOs working in the state, can bring about effective change and youth engagement. With the market for organic produce increasing the scope for growth is plentiful. Traditional organic agriculture is also the necessary way to go forward as sustainable practice is crucial in the fragile Himalayan ecology.

Local and indigenous communities have existing systems of knowledge, agriculture, cultural practices that our integrated with their natural surroundings making them sustainable in very complex ways since they have developed over many generations in particular geographic locations. Many traditional varieties of crops are climate resilient and we are working towards recognizing them and then promoting them. Living traditions are a time tested pathway for innovations that ensure sustainability in the times of climate change; and as they come from the farmers’ themselves, their acceptance is more ready. It is time we take bigger strides in the path of biocultural heritage, as the learning from our past is only a way forward

The energy of the youth and its penchant for change is palpable even at the international level. I was selected to be part of the Global Landscape Forum’s Youth in Landscape Initiative and interacted with many young people. This was the first time I interacted with an International forum but its ability to energize through youth interaction has left an indelible imprint. The coming together of so many young people on issues they are passionate about infuses confidence and builds a supportive global community. I hope that this can be created at a more immediate level around me and we can bring a breath of fresh air of youth to the already pristine Himalayan surroundings.

This blog post is part of the GCARD3 Youth blogpost applications. The content, structure and grammar is at the discretion of the author only.