Farm sector must be revitalised

“Everybody needs food, nobody wants to grow it,” said Nana Patekar, recently, at a public platform. The actor-turned farmers’ activist was voicing a concern that we all need to think about.

A doctor’s son wants to be a doctor, a lawyer’s son wants to be a lawyer, and an actor’s son wants to be an actor, but there’s hardly a farmer whose son wants to be a farmer. They are all heading, instead, to cities in search of work. Why? What can be done to make things better?

Twenty-five-year-old Satwinder Singh from Punjab decided to take up a 10-to-6 job as a business executive with an MNC in Gurgaon after completing his Masters from Delhi University. Going back to his village near Ludhiana where his family has been doing farming for generations was not even an option worth considering. He is happy with his job and the amenities of city life which he cannot dream of getting in the village.

Satwinder is not the only one. His choice reflects a growing mindset — farming is not a career option for the country’s youth. It’s ironic considering that no other job can provide the same security as farming, because people will always need food, so there is always money to be made. But the farming sector in India is not attractive.

Current scenario and challenges: The stark shortage of talent and manpower in agriculture has become a matter of grave concern. Low productivity, back-breaking work and quality of life in the villages is a turnoff.

The average per capita food grain production has seen a steady decline in the recent years. India currently tops the charts when it comes to the number of farmers’ suicides, which is again an indication of the poor state of agricultural economy.

Limited artificial irrigation facilities, high cost of agricultural inputs, modern technology-based machineries, and small and fragmented landholdings are the major problems that plague the agriculture, forcing farmers to be dependent mostly on outdated technologies.

Moreover, more than 50 agricultural universities in India churn out thousands of graduates every year who take up jobs elsewhere, hardly seeing agriculture as a profession worth pursuing.

One reason for this is the rise of aspirations of the rural consumer since the opening up of the Indian economy.

We are unable to deliver essential good/services/facilities to our villages. No wonder, farming fails to attract talent. Agriculture must be transformed so that it offers young people an appealing alternative to urban life.

Holistic solutions

Clearly, development of the agricultural economy is crucial to deal with the problem of talent crunch. Here are a few holistic solutions to resolve the problem:

Farmer education: There are probably two ways to do this — one, the government through its agencies educates farmers on the latest techniques of seed, agrochemical and water usage for best yield outcomes, and two, a renewed focus is put on vocational courses and skill education for people from remote villages to create future-ready and progressive rural micro-entrepreneurs.

Use of ICT: Leveraging information and communication technology (ICT) has the potential to create a revolution in the agriculture industry. Embracing the right balance of smart, sustainable, and futuristic technologies can make agriculture a viable career option for young Indians.

Building Research Capacity: Research and development (R&D) holds the potential to offer long-term solutions for agriculture. It can help in overcoming issues such as seed problems, pest and disease problems, crop sustainability, climate change, irrigation problems, soil erosion etc. Adoption of scientific farming practices can revolutionise the dynamics of the whole sector. Once this happens, participation from youth innovators is bound to increase.

Way forward: In recent times, we have seen efforts in the right direction to mitigate the inadequacies of rural infrastructure. Technology, coupled with right education and innovation, can pave the way for a better outlook for this sector. The government, corporates, agricultural research institutions and all other stakeholders must come forward to empower farmers.

If the prime minister’s recent pronouncements are any indication, empowering farmers is happening. A host of new schemes with generous Central allocations have been announced in the new Budget. Hopefully, this will revitalise the rural economy and make farming a viable career option for the youth.

(The writer is Managing Director, Crystal Crop Protection Pvt Ltd)

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