Here’s Why We Need Young People on India’s Farms

Dec 1, 2022

With over 50% of Indians employed in agriculture, the performance of India’s crops and agri-businesses determines the economic and social prosperity of the masses. While economists agree that as a country develops, the proportion of its employment in agriculture decreases, the future looks bleak if no one ends up growing our food.

In 2016, the average age of an Indian farmer stood at 50.1 years. With young people not willing to take up agriculture, the future of food production lies under much apprehension. According to the Census 2011, 2,000 farmers every day give up farming. The reasons for this are reasonable and rational. According to NSSO’s last Situation Assessment Survey of agricultural households, the average monthly income of a farm household in India was just Rs 6,426 per month in 2013, out of which the share of cultivation and livestock was just Rs 3,844, implying 40% of incomes earned by agricultural households were due to non-farm sources. For many of us, the primary concern for employment preferences is financial stability, so the likelihood for us to turn to a profession where employers are forced to take their lives due to severe indebtedness is invariably low.

Agricultural labourers and farmers with fragmented land look out for ways to get out of this endemic of poverty and turn to urban areas, where in most circumstances, a dignified livelihood is far from their reach. This fuels their children’s inaccessibility to social resources and healthy development, perpetuating the vicious cycle of poverty.

34% of agricultural labourers fall under the age of 15–34, and hence, the rural crisis is very much a youth issue. The lack of sufficient pay for labourers does not only affect one person, but also the larger social sphere.

As a society prospers, people must be able to make the choice of how they live their lives. Individuals who want to retain in farming should be able to do so, and ones who want to pursue another profession should be able to do the same. Thus, as much as we hope for less economic dependence on agriculture, we can’t pursue it with complete disdain for the sector. The population is set to increase manifold, and consequently, food security will grow to become a major concern.

If we aren’t able to encourage young people who are passionate about agriculture today, it would lead to an unsustainable and critical future tomorrow.

Farmers today are faced with climatic fluctuation, coupled with no availability of credit and market systems, aggregating the income instability even further. Agriculture requires high levels of capital investment, but with soaring levels of land prices and other agricultural inputs, finance plays the villain for newcomers.

To increase our farmers’ standard of living and ensure a supply of healthy food, the nation should encourage organic farming along with other innovative farming techniques (such as vertical framing, which can help fill gaps of food insecurity, as organic farming yields less produce compared to the conventional green revolution policy). But all these ambitious transformations of the agro-climatic atmosphere will yield results only if national and state level policy is formulated to its advantage.

Students of agriculture account for 0.4% of total students pursuing higher education, and a majority of them do not turn into agriculture but rather go into banking and other technical sectors. This leaves the nation empty of bright minds with exquisite knowledge in agriculture.

While the national and state agriculture policy needs to work as an incentive to get young people into agriculture, information to increase productivity of land should be continuously disseminated at the local level.

The local level representatives serve as the means through which farmers can access transparent market networks. Farmers’ narratives of their lived experiences still have not gained a space in mainstream media, which can be changed through the novel art of storytelling-through fiction and non-fiction, cinema and documentaries — an opportunity in which young people can take the lead.

Youth exposure to agriculture can also be gained by increasing agritouristry and increasing opportunities for urban folks to rent out small plots of land and farm on these plots along with their children. Doing so will not only make young kids understand how their food is grown, but also help them appreciate farmers and the energy that goes into producing food that they otherwise simply put into their shopping carts at high end grocery stores. Farmer-consumer cooperatives aimed at the youth could help stabilize farmer incomes and engage consumers with the food they eat.

With Indian population set to increase multifold in the coming years, along with the aging farmer population, India stares at a food insecure future. Young tech savvy individuals are stepping down from their 9–5 jobs, turning into the fields in order to pursue the idealistic lifestyle of their dreams. This cultural shift of these few individuals may fill us with hope, but that’s not enough. There are severe obstacles that prevent them from getting into the field, and these obstacles need to be taken away to feed the masses. Youth centric agrarian policy should be formulated with research backed up on producing more food with less soil, water and other resources, and shall uplift young people in both urban and rural areas across the country.

The objective of a ‘Think Article’ is to bring knowledge about policies in the sphere, in context to the youth of India and, if possible, influencing the policy process. The article has no motivation to pass any political judgments.


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