Years of declining investment in farmer education and extension services - as well under-investment in agriculture per se – is now affecting our ability to source quality raw materials in the quantities required to produce enough food for an increasing global population.
In many countries, farming is unattractive to young people. Few take it up as a profession. Those who do, usually do so by default and not by choice. Most young people leave the countryside and search for employment opportunities in cities.
We’d like to know what you think can be done to reverse these trends:
1) How can we ensure that small-scale farming offers an appealing level of income as well as social recognition? Do you know of any existing innovative models that aim to achieve this?
2) What should be the role of governments, business, development agencies and other stakeholders in addressing these challenges? How can these different groups be incentivized to contribute?
3) How can we make agriculture more attractive to young people? Where should investment in agricultural training and education be focused?
Please post your comments below:
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What should be the role of governments, business, development agencies and other stakeholders in addressing these challenges?
Among the various stakeholders, such as business, multilateral development organizations, donors and foundations, government needs to play leading role. In this context, this is not so much about the role of the Ministry of Agriculture. For most developing countries, agriculture should be the national priority and the leadership role of the country president and/or prime minister is imperative. This will also considerably facilitate the needed cross-ministerial coordination. Recently, the government of the Democratic Republic of Congo has taken this approach. For more details see:
Ray Goldberg, Carin-Isabel Knoop, and Djordjija Petkoski, "Seeding Growth in the Democratic Republic of Congo", Harvard Business School Case Study, N9-914-401, December, 2013.
Djordjija Petkoski, Wharton, University of Pennsylvania
I agree the government has an important role to play in providing an enabling environment for farmers to succeed. This includes making investments in agriculture and infrastructure as well as investing in relevant education and training. It also has a role to play in incentivising the other players to address this challenge. This can take the form of building infrastructure which will encourage the private sector to invest in a specific area, like roads or collection centres, as well as facilitating collaboration between different key players, like business and civil society.
About 25 years ago, the Peruvian cacao production was focused on the commodities market; now, the country has now managed to position the product in niche markets that recognize and pay for better quality, with an international recognition. This has generated in the production areas greater social recognition for cocoa producers, as well as improvements in their income levels. This is an incentive for young people who now recognize the cocoa farming and agriculture in general, as an effective means to achieve their life goals.
If we want the younger generations to visualize a better future by working on farms currently managed by their parents, the issue of education is crucial. This should start from scholar education, so they learn early about the value of this activity and about proper farm. An example of this is the "Schools & Café " program currently being implemented in Colombia since 1996 and supported by the National Federation of Coffee Growers of Colombia (see http://habitat.aq.upm.es/dubai/04/bp2618.html )
Regarding the technical / vocational training, it is important to promote local educational institutions with quality standards and market orientation, in topics related to agriculture, and with a clear focus on the demand and its requirements.
On the subject of education, both state and private enterprises have an important role to play. Companies must play an expert role, being an expression of the demand. Their contribution to the definition of the occupational profile and design of the curriculum is very relevant. They can also make investments to strengthen the education system in agricultural technical issues. Their incentive is that a tech agricultural supply contributes to growth and opportunity for everyone.
On the other hand the government has the responsibility to ensure access for the majorities to adequate and sufficient supply of technical careers. In the case of agricultural careers, improving this offer will reduce migration and abandonment of agricultural land.
To the extent that farming is profitable, young people will see it as a means to achieve their life goals. The investment made in training and / or technical education in agriculture topics should focus on promising or profitable activities so that development opportunities increase.
Around the world various groups and individuals practice and develop the permaculture techniques pioneered by Australian Bill Mollison with enormous success, achieving high yields in food production as well as bio-diversity, social and emotional capital, often in quite small areas of land or even in the centre of cities. At the margins of today's usually energy intensive agricultural techniques which are invariably heavily dependent on imported oil-based inputs, it is these pioneers in sustainable resilient agriculture who are leading the way to a low carbon, resource efficient agricultural future. Would Nestle like to comment on their view of permaculture practice and how they are equally responding to a future that is not fossil-oil dependent ? What are governments doing to facilitate agriculture that is more resilient to external (oil for example) inputs and planet-friendly ?
In general we share the view on permaculture, however running a food system under permaculture is extremely labour and knowledge intensive and can hardly be mechanised. As such it is extremely difficult to replicate and produce food at affordable price for urban consumers.
At QualySense (www.qualysense.com) we are working on bringing exciting technologies into agriculture to help farmers in selecting automatically seeds with respect to quality parameters such that they can growth better quality crops. In order to attract youth agriculture should sound more sexy. The good news is that today this already the case: new technologies are coming in, farmers are much more attentive to consumer quality claims (e.g. gluten-free, organic) and the educational offer on agriculture topics has increased. However, we must consider that human beings are ambitious, dream about a career growth, expect high benefits. This is where agriculture is still lacking.
We also believe that new information and communication technnologies can play an important role in making farming more efficient as well as in attracting young talented people. Using these technologies provide young people witn an intellectural challenges. But we shouldn't forget we should provide them with adequate remuneration as well.
I perfectly agree. See my comment later on "Sharing profit" along the value chain. We are working for a more sustainable food chain by helping farmers do more with their seeds, i.e. make more money. On the other side, the big corps should invest on farming because their future depends on them.
There is a good example of Isdell Nevill (former CEO of Coca-Cola) who made the company invest into water, water being the primary ingredient of Coke.
In the Making Cents International State of the Field in Youth Economic Opportunities, we discuss the issue of IT for youth in rural areas and profile several promising cases, among them:
+Mshamba in Kenya, an application and sms agricultural information service developed by a team of young entrepreneurs.
+Radio and television programming promoting farming as a business, also highlighting family dynamics including unpaid, family child labor on smallholder farms (TechnoServe's STRYVE and ACDI/VOCA's Kenya Maize Development Program)
+Radio and sms information service to cocoa farmers in Ghana (Hershey)
+The Community Knowledge Worker program (The Grameen Foundation, Uganda) in which community members including many women and young people earn money by answering farmer questions. They use smartphones to access static data and can also consult an information/research service. The CKWs also earn money conducting surveys for companies, research institutes, etc, who need information from farmers.
+The by now well known work of ITC India in establishing village internet cafes (e-choupals) that link farmers with ITC as an input supplier and buyer, but also provide open internet access and open market information.
+Use of free on-line training and information by extension agents, trainers, teachers, and leaders of more advanced agribusinesses
We also summarize a debate about who has access and who benefits from IT, and how. And, we convey the demand for more relevant "local" content.
Mary McVay, The Enterprise Development Kiosk
consultant to Making Cents International
Off the bat stop the heavy handedness on organic farming in favor of big business, organic farms need licensing, poisoning the food supply and ruining soils requires no permit or license. All this is just a tool for the biggies to bury or buy the up-and-coming or successful organic operations, the antithesis of the goal.
Until that insanity is removed, organic farming as small business is a dream.
My thoughts relate to questions 1 and 2: In addition to comments posted above, I believe that farmers also need to be better paid for the food and other primary resources they produce (thereby making the profession more attractive with growth prospects - which also adds to increased status). This requires governments to step in: creating and implementing policy where the retail sector is required to pay farmers more (and therefore adjusting their own profit expactations - in several developing countries, retail outlets make excessive profits while farmers carry the risk) and retailers must also be curtailed from passing these costs onto the consumer. Ultimately, it needs to be recognised that retailers make too much profit; farmers do the hard work and carry most of the risk; and consumers pay too much. The retail sector MUST be made to take on more risk, pay farmers more and readjust their profit expectations. Everyone therefore benefits.
There are so many actors across the value chain. within this business model it's of absolute importance to have more transparency in the physical flow (traceability) as well as remuneration of the different players (incl. raw material costs and services provided). we are of the opinion that the risks and benefits need to be balanced out between the different players. The more transparent the system becomes, the more trustworthy all the players become.