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Why bother about youth-focused agriculture?

Farmer and his daughter both farm workers , use water pumped from a solar water pump at the farms of Gurinder Singh a farmer  Pic by Prashanth Vishwanathan (IWMI).Agriculture surely is not in that list of dream jobs among young people. The lack of prestige and income generated in the field of agriculture makes it hardly appealing. The big deal is that, in the meantime, the agricultural labor force is aging - This is primarily due to the increased rural-urban migration of youth in search of stable jobs or better prospects. Agriculture being the backbone of developing countries, increased migration to cities can have a severe impact on the economic development of a country. This is why rural and youth employment in agriculture needs to be prioritized and pushed up the pipeline.

“Over 90% of urban growth is occurring in developing countries, which add an estimated 70 million new urban residents each year” says a statistical report by the Cities Alliance. It also reports that the urban population of the world’s two poorest regions, South Asia and Sub-Saharan Africa, is expected to double over the next 20 years. A study done in my country, Sri Lanka, points out that 84% of the rural-urban migrants involved in the study were aged below 30.

So ‘how can we make agriculture sexy for youth?’ was one the critical questions discussed at the pre-GCARD3 High Level Policy Dialogue on Investment for Sustainable Development in Asia and the Pacific.

As a youth representative at the Asia and the Pacific dialogue, I came across few cases of innovative and stimulating work being done in engaging youth in agriculture. There were also practical ideas to build on. Cases of youth stepping back to agriculture based careers were not rare, but is also not exactly in the limelight to be fair. The work, and the word, needs to get out there and be seen and heard by the general public if it’s grow a better future (Read more on my previous blog piece). In order to trigger further impact, research needs to go beyond conference walls and be communicated in simpler ways to match different audiences, depending on age and level of literacy.

As a whole, through national and regional consultation, GCARD3 (2015/16) has focused on realigning research needs and priorities with countries’ own development needs and national processes and with the SDGs. GCARD3 Global Event promises to be a more powerful platform. There, I’m hoping to witness more practical and real-life cases to learn from and spread the word. I am also eager to see possible frameworks to package agriculture as an economically sustainable career.

The GCARD Global Event is also more encouraging as the event is fusing youth involvement from around the globe. We need more than grey haired intellects in the discussions. Youth should also be brought into the dialogues – to share their experiences, air their perspectives and provide feedback what’s missing and where to develop in shaping a more youthful field of agriculture.

I believe young intellects also prove to be more influential ambassadors in getting these messages across to their peers - In spreading new findings and especially in reintroducing the potential of agriculture, both intellectually and economically. Youth can have more influence on their peers and fuel ideas to set new trends.

Agriculture has a greater potential to provide employment opportunities to a very large percentage of the population. At the same time, more youth employment, especially targeting rural youth, will consequently revive the agricultural labor force.

Youth are anyway tech-savvy and drawn to innovation. Even in the rural context, children of farmers are more literate and technology-wise more capable than their parents. Therefore the use of technology and innovation in the field of agriculture are key in attracting youth back to the field.

For instance; farming drones, solar powered irrigation technology, drought resistant crops, horticulture, hydroponics, biotechnology, smart phone technology, tractors on auto pilot, soil and crop sensors, laser technology are only few of the advanced agriculture technologies available today. They are gradually upgrading the image of the farmer. Moreover these developments can provide more advanced and attractive careers in the agriculture industry.

"No One Left Behind: Agri-food Innovation and Research for a Sustainable World" is the theme of the GCARD3 Global Event. The five key themes of the GCARD3 dialogue are all of interest to me because I think they are all inter-dependent in delivering better future for all - youth, rural lives, agriculture, and the sustainable development of a country. Hoping to see positive and influential outcomes at the GCARD3 Global Event.

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

Picture courtesy: Prashanth Vishwanathan (IWMI) - all rights reserved.