Arguably, reviving India's agriculture is the country's most important agenda. But who will carry forward this primary livelihood activity? There might not be a next generation farmer left in the country. According to the Census 2011, every day 2,000 farmers give up farming. The young among the farming communities are hardly interested in agriculture. Even a majority of students who graduate from agricultural universities switch over to other professions. It is called the "great Indian agro brain drain". Paradoxically, agriculture still seems dependable: despite dipping contribution to the country's gross domestic product, 55 per cent of the workforce hails from the agriculture sector. Jitendra speaks to students of agriculture to understand what can attract the youth to farming
"Stop the agro brain drain"
For long, the agricultural sector has been neglected. Though 80-90 per cent of students studying agriculture belong to the farming community, most of them prefer to choose a different career. At present, around 0.4 million students are enrolled in agricultural universities and institutes. But sadly, only 0.1 million students manage to graduate. Most of them (between 70 and 80 per cent) join the banking sector.
We need to stop this agro brain drain. There are many ways to enhance job opportunities for students of agriculture. For instance, the government needs to come up with schemes so that students are given a licence to market and supply fertilisers and pesticides. In doing so, farmers can get correct advice regarding the amount to be used for a particular crop. It is a pity that management students, and not students of agriculture, are recruited by institutions like the National Bank for Agriculture and Rural Development (NABARD).
Both the government and the corporate sector must increase the number of scholarships for agriculture students to enhance research and development. This will help them become better professionals and improve their earning capacities. The government must also enhance their professional status so that more youth take up jobs in this sector.
It is common knowledge that students of agriculture rarely utilise their knowledge in practical farming. This must change. We must emulate the success stories in Maharashtra and Punjab, where agriculture students have taken up farming and are using proper seeds, machinery and agro management techniques.
Agriculture is the biggest sector in India, yet the sector and its workforce are not valued. This, too, must change.
"Handholding is required to strengthen farm livelihoods"
The youth are not attracted to this profession as there is neither guarantee of income nor enough institutions that provide jobs. At present, only a few crops get a Minimum Support Price (MSP) guarantee from the government. This has created a vicious cycle. Farmers are growing the same crops every season to sustain their livelihoods. It is time to break this cycle and think beyond this stunted vision. The government must assure MSP for other crops as well. This will encourage the youth to take up farming without bothering about the market risks.
We must also move away from monocropping and invest in the diversity of crops that are indigenous to various regions of the country. It is a pity that we have to import wheat, even though we have the capacity to meet the growing demand.
The youth should also be taught about profitable farming techniques and systems so that less land and resources are used. They should not only be taught about integrated farming, but also about latest techniques in mushroom farming, freshwater aquaculture and dairy farming. They should also be given subsidy or loans to start food processing units. For instance, in Punjab, the processing units of kinnow produce are located in distant areas. By helping the youth to establish processing units, we can decrease transportation costs as well as provide jobs.
Cutting edge agricultural machine technologies are expensive. Government agencies should enable the farmer to rent such equipment so that they save money in investment and increase productivity. Farmers need handholding to embrace digitalisation. The digital revolution must be used to inform the farmer about weather forecasts, time of sowing and the exact amount of fertilisers and pesticides to be used for each crop, depending on the soil health.
Attractive loan schemes will go a long way in strengthening the hands of the farmer. Farmers must also be provided with proper insurance policies as we are already in the middle of a climate change era.
"Teach them to become farm entrepreneurs"
Iindia's agriculture sector resembles a patient battling for life in an intensive care unit. The recent demonetisation has shown that the Union government did not anticipate how it would affect the livelihoods of farmers. Across the nation, farmers have incurred heavy losses as they had to sell their produce at throwaway prices.
Worse, in the middle of a currency shortage, daily-wage agricultural labourers have been left to fend for themselves. Demonetisation has also come at a time when a farmer is committing suicide every hour.
Ironically, the youth of this country have high energy levels—we comprise 65 per cent of the population. The youth must be made aware of the prevailing conditions—soil health, rainfall patterns and cropping cultures. They must also be apprised of the severity of the water crisis and taught the ancient art of water harvesting.
They must be trained to incorporate the latest technological breakthroughs in agriculture. The solutions lie in precision agriculture and organic farming. Agricultural institutions must hold training programmes to teach young farmers about post-harvest management and value additions. There is also a need to integrate the agro-economy through value chains and market linkages using cold storage systems. They must be also trained to be market savvy and produce foodstuff that use less land, water and inputs.
Higher level agricultural universities must make themselves relevant by inspiring students to become entrepreneurs—teaching them to practice new agro innovations and techniques, generating awareness about the existing banking schemes and market mechanisms.
"Wanted: an Indian Agriculture Service"
There are many seed varieties that have the potential to secure huge profits, but are in the hands of the private sector. The government has not made any effort to produce these high-yielding varieties and make them available to the poor farmer. At a time when we are facing drought almost every year, the government should invest in high-yielding drought- resistant crop varieties and popularise them. Only then will India’s youth gain confidence to take up farming as a profession. The government should also come up with initiatives to encourage organic farming as clean crops are gaining ground worldwide and are highly profitable. They are also ecologically sustainable. Banks too must provide subsidised loans without collateral security.
Besides, there is an immediate need to start a separate Indian Agriculture Service, on the lines of the Indian Administrative Service and the Indian Forest Service. This will not only make the agro- regulatory mechanism more robust but also generate jobs for students pursuing agriculture. Agriculture as a subject should be taught from the school level itself. It is time to bring little cheer to the farming community.
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