By James Laraki (October 28, 2012)
DEMOGRAPHIC trends point to more young people in the world today than ever before, especially in developing countries. And indications are that many young people are reportedly choosing not to pursue livelihoods in agriculture, especially as farmers. If this is the case, there are clear implications for the future of agriculture, especially at a time where we are faced with many challenges, especially with global efforts towards improving food security and poverty reduction.
In PNG, over 80% of the population depends on agriculture for food as well as employment. Therefore, agriculture and the rural economy play an important role in the lives of many people in rural areas, including young people and will continue to do so into the future.
Even with a trend of young people migrating to urban centres, agriculture will remain the largest employer in many countries. This is very much so in PNG and it may remain so for many years to come. But it is too often seen as an 'employment of last resort', avoided by young people, especially by those with secondary and tertiary education. Yet an increasing number of youth remain unemployed and we seem to be incapable or unwilling to do what is necessary to provide young people with employment in the agriculture sector. So “what do we do to make agriculture attractive to young job-seekers”.
We have a situation where our young people struggle to find formal employment when they leave the education system. This is high unemployment rate we are faced with. An increasing number of young people need employment, yet there are limited openings in the formal employment sector.
Our challenge is to support more young people to develop agricultural enterprises and view agriculture as a viable career option. It is becoming obvious that the interest of youth in agriculture is declining and this trend is likely to continue if we do not look into this seriously.
A large a number of young people are migrating to urban centres in the hope of getting employment and for a better life. This is due to lack of jobs and opportunities in rural areas, and a view that working in farming is low status and does not offer good future prospects.
Young people play an important role and are required in the agriculture sector. But education or training programs are not always readily available, technologies are not accessible, inputs may be scarce, and other vital services are not accessible.
Young people nowadays are becoming less connected with their food, often making little or no association between the food they eat, who is behind it and it is produced. They may not see beyond the store or market, nor make the connection between the food they are eating and the efforts made by farmers to grow it. This growing disconnection with agriculture implies an uncertain future for sustainable food production to feed the growing population. It is important to make the link between food and agriculture visible.
The important role young people play in farming needs to be understood as agriculture is sustainable if it can attract future generation farmers. In fact the young people are the future farmers. Efforts are required to discourage the overwhelming tendency of young people to move out of farming in search of a more comfortable life and better income.
It is true that there are major challenges, farming is not an easy or a more glamorous option, but we should be exploring ways of doing agriculture in a sustainable and rewarding manner.
Conditions are increasingly challenging. There is less land, markets and other facilities may not be readily available. So it is a really important challenge for us to find a space in the agricultural sector for young people.
There is a general perception that farming is for rural people, non-educated people, people who are poor or aged or who do not really have any other option except to do farming work. But we need to work out how best to change this mindset and create an environment to attract young people into the sector.
Many studies elsewhere indicate that access to land and capital along with entrepreneurial skills may work to attract young people to agriculture. Improved infrastructure, increased ICT facilities, storage and cooling facilities are other areas to that may be required to look into in order to create an opportunity-oriented agriculture sector. We need to do these and others necessary to create jobs and opportunities to attract young people.
This somewhat contrasting picture of youth engagement in agriculture highlights the importance for us to fully understand the underlying reasons. We are of the view that a central part of this process is to interrogate young people’s aspirations and expectations for the future. Aspirations play an important role in influencing how young people make life choices, how they think and feel about themselves and their lives. The aspirations of our rural youth and their formation are, therefore, of interest not only to the young people themselves, their families and communities, but to all of us with an interest in agricultural and rural development policy. Critically, we need to ask how the aspirations of rural youth fit with emerging visions and future models of agriculture in PNG and the global.
Photo: A youngster weeding his peanut plots in the Markham valley.