By Raakhee Suryaprakash
Edited by Nidhi Singh, Associate Editor, The Indian Economist
India has a population of 1.25 billion and half that massive figure is under twenty-five years of age. The world economy is so precarious that joblessness abounds especially among these youngsters. Young people face global unemployment levels from 10% to 28%. Yet they typically reject careers in the agriculture and food system. Education in a professional college (read: engineering, medicine, B. Com, and law) and a white-collar job is the Great Indian Dream but increasingly it is the skilled worker who gets a good job not a fresh graduate! Joblessness among graduates not only crushes the dreams of the young but also of the entire family.[i]
In many cases parents have starved, worked double shifts, and mortgaged or sold their lands or homes to put first-generation college-goers through professional courses. At the end of all their trials and tribulations, if a job remains elusive the entire family suffers. In India annually, according to some statistics, over a hundred thousand (one lakh) deaths are attributed to suicide – majority of the victims being comprised of farmers and the young. A disturbing fact that transcends the urban-rural divide! Lack of options, joblessness, and financial crises as well as health crises and emotional and physical trauma are prime causes of suicide.
In the midst of this great threat is an even greater opportunity. The U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) is thus promoting the year 2014 as the International Year of Family Farming (IYFF). The aim of this programme is to encourage the youth of the world to make careers in farming while also finding means to improve the status of women working the land.
In a bad economy the only things that seem to thrive are food outlets – low end and high end – in urban India. With busy lives, scarcity of domestic help, high LPG prices, power shortage, not to mention high vegetable, oil, and fruit prices many working professionals are opting to “outsource” their cooking. This has created a whole new breed of food entrepreneurs. From offering cheap, clean, and nutritious food to the other end of those on the spectrum offering food cooked only with organic veggies and high-end, highly specialized diets! Youngsters and old hands in the hospitality industry are raking in the moolah by getting with this urban trend. This foodie phenomenon in a depressed economy has also moved to encompass coffee and tea outlets, cafes, speciality food outlets, and exotic grocers. These food entrepreneurs, some of who come from rural or farming communities, have realized the advantages of cutting out the middle men and sourcing their produce directly from the farmers.
In a country where onion prices have changed governments – a price hike artificially created by malicious supply scarcity orchestrated by produce hoarders and stock saboteurs – farmers die of debts while the rest of the population hungers for affordable food! People are realizing the importance of connecting with their rural brethren who work the land for feed the nation.
It also should be noted that the stereotype of the young male farmer has given way to the reality of an aging, female-fronted farming force. If you visit a village, odds are you’ll find women labouring in the field while men are either absent – working in cities to send home a pittance to sustain the family – or loitering in wine shops or lying around in a drug-induced haze. Desperation and financial constraints manifest in rural India in the most unlikely manner. In the developing world women constitute 43% to 80% of agricultural labour.[ii] Thus it is that in these countries, women are the backbone of the economy. Yet they lack access to land-owning/inheriting rights, credit, agricultural and general education, as well as technical aid. According to FAO research, “providing female farmers access to the same resources as men could reduce the number of hungry people in the world by 100-150 million people.” Poverty and hunger elimination is the first of the Millennium Development Goals which have all been elusive targets even a decade and a half into the new millennium.
Rural India – A Fresh Start?
The time has come to reconnect with the land; renew our ties with the backbone of the economy and bring the spirit of engineering, innovation, and enterprise as well as dignity and nobility to farming. With the global economy slumping service industries – the millennial favoured child – has stopped its double digit growth. The time has come to revisit rural India. There is a need for “not just farmers, but food entrepreneurs, scientists, agronomists, extension agents, union and government leaders” sensitive and aware of the problems faced by agriculturalists.
“Governments, particularly in developing countries, but also elsewhere need to invest in policies and practices that provide access to land, credit and banking services, education and knowledge, and technical skills for young farmers. And these governments need to ensure that young people [and women] have access to markets, goods and service, employment opportunities, and leisure so that they want to stay on the farm.”
With the demand for organic food slowly but surely increasing the time to join this second green revolution is now. Multiple problems can be solved by encouraging organic produce cultivation and consumption. Bhutan – the happy nation – has harnessed the power of this trend and has aimed to be a 100% organic nation. With our massive rural populations tied to agriculture and living a quietly desperate life, India too is well-placed to hitch itself to this eco-friendly bandwagon.
For those of us in the cities bored with the rat race that’s work life or college life. Spare a thought to our rural brothers and sisters. At this time in history, events are aligned to facilitate you becoming “Angels” and “investors” in the agricultural sector. Depending on your interest and expertise you could invest your surplus time, energy, money, and or talent to improve the scope and reach of rural farmers. The opportunities to make a positive impact on the lives of our downtrodden brethren are many. Just make look for it and you’ll attract the opportunity to make a difference into your lives.
[i] BBC Series for November and December 2013 – Young and Jobless: India – Report by Yogita Limaye from Mumbai and Gujarat, India.
[ii] “The Future of Family Farming: Empowerment and Equal Rights for Women and Youth,” Danielle Nierenberg, President and Co-Founder, Food Tank: http://www.fao.org/fsnforum/forum/discussions/family-farming/.
Raakhee has a Master’s degree in International Studies and a Bachelor’s degree in Chemistry but is passionate about writing and researching ideas that change the world for the better. She is in the process of launching a social enterprise SUNSHINE MILLENNIUM that aims to help India’s off-grid rural areas achieve the Millennium Development Goals by setting up of solar-powered millennium development centres. Her work has been widely published both in print and online media.