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:

Editor's Note:

 

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If we’re going to retain young, talented people in rural areas, we need to invest in human development, training and education. We also need to expose them to new technologies and income opportunities that are equivalent to those in urban areas. Offering an attractive lifestyle in rural areas is impotant as a way of giving them social recognition.

Thanks for the great questions and all the responses so far, it's a critical topic as urban markets grow and agricultural sectors have an opportunity to 'step up'. Responding to Han's point above about many actors our learning in Practical Action has been that having processes that enable key actors (private, public, small, medium, large, powerful and marginalised) to have genuine dialogue with each other so they can build trust and together work on blockages or opportunites is vital. And if we want to inspire younger farmers they should be involved in those processes and have ways to contribute their ideas and aspirations. Our particular approach is called Participatory Market System Development http://practicalaction.org/pmsd

Younger farmers don't need to see farming as a life sentence, but instead getting involved in an agri-business needs to seem more exciting. Working with others in the market system could help them to change how they see their future.

 

Based in our experience, educational institutions as the self-sufficient schools become a center of community development that allows to create a value chain within the community, to help create shared value with other organizations and stakeholders, and connect one another in the attempt of improving and inspiring new ideas to support the growth and quality of life of young farmers and their families. 

Manfred - I have been around this situation for a long time. I am quite frankly sick of hearing about extension service strengthening and farmer field schools. Just look at our industry in terms of what has "embedded" in agricultural communities and you will see that we still have the same issues that we had 15 years ago. A few patches of low hanging fruit have benefitted but is this what you would class as sustainable - if the outside funding was removed - would the whole thing collapse? The producing countries need to be assisted to take control of their national assets and to have a marketing regime which, by the use of technonlogy, enables farmer groups to find and transact with the best buyer.

 

As part of this is the quality and food safety issue which can be achieved by independent quality inspection close to the farm gate in the quality management/resource centres that are needed.

 

 

thanks for your comment Phil, , this is an interesting point and very much in line with our thinking. This is why we have developed the Nestlé Cocoa Plan to start at the very first stage of the 'chocolate' value chain and make cocoa farming more attractive. This starts with vocational trainings, good planting materials combined with agricultural practices to increase yields and household income. We're working different stakeholders, including private sector, NGOs and governmental entities to achieve this. This task is too big to be tacked by a single player.

I mostly agree with your points. However, who would produce food in the future and how will we feed the increasing population if the next generation of young talented people abandons rural areas? What would you propose as the next generation of farmers?

agree that we have to work towards sustainable markets which includes the cocoa growers as feasible business units. Field schools are just one way to bring together unorganized farmers and achieve outreach with best practices - not only in agriculture, but also in business, social, and environment issues. As implementer, me may have to step back, if donors take out their funding - but the businesses involved in our programs stay on and continue implementing their sustainability programs, based on lessons learned and capacity build up in PPP paving the first paths to the higher hanging fruits.

Earning money is attractive. There must be a mind shift from farmer to entrepreneur farmer. If we can motivate young farmers to learn to value and make sense out of farming activities that provides significant income, it is likely that they will find farming more attractive.

To achieve this, young farmers must have right set of business and production skills, and understand how to apply available technologies. 

That brings us to the end of our live session.  Thank you to our panel and to all of you who participated!

We'll leave this discussion open - so feel free to continue posting your comments.

 

If you would like to read more about this topic, check out our three-part special on "The Next Generation of Farmers", co-hosted by Nestlé:

 

 

 

This was great discussion! To pick up on Alison Griffith point, we need to help young people achieve their ambitions and hopefully, in a rural environment, we can help them acquire the skills they need to become succcessful 'agripreneurs', and ensuring that their vital contribution, producing food, is recognised by consumers and society at large.

Hi, Alison!  I have seen Practical Action's Participatory Market System Development in action in the dairy sector in Bangladesh.  Not only does participation support inclusion, but the leadership groups/committees established support sustainability by putting in place local institutions that endure to support the value chain beyond the project life.

Many projects have challenges with participation because they perceive that is slows down the project implementation.  In a hurry to meet deliverables, project manager often link with existing organizations and known leaders.  Because young people, women in particular, are often left out of established institutions, they get left out of the project.  Along comes the mid-term evaluations and - opps! - the project is not meeting targets for reaching women and young people.  A specialist is often called in at that point, but has to turn the project train around.  How much better to partner at the start with organizations that have experience working with young people and women, or have experience with participatory approaches.  How much better to build into project costs the work it takes to organize, consult and engage young people.

In addition, every publication and forum on youth emphasizes the need to create leadership opportunities for young people in which they are not just consulted, but have decision-making roles in policy and projects.

Mary McVay

The Enterprise Development Kiosk

Thanks.  The message is not, "youth are irrelevant to agriculture," but more that engaging youth should not be seen as the main solution to food security and agriculture should not be seen as the main solution to the youth employment challenge.

In terms of who will feed the increasing population, the best in-depth work I found on this subject is "Small-scale Farming and Youth in an Era of Rapid Rural Change," by Felicity Proctor and Valeria Lucchesi.  There is an excellent analysis of global and regional data, publications and cases.  One of many insights for me was their break-down of small-scale farms into 3 categories of asset-poor, asset-limited and asset-rich.  The asset-rich and asset-limited are in a position to contribute to and benefit from different packages of agricultural modernization assistance, and the asset-poor are more in need of livelihood assistance and - for young family members - assistance to transition to a different livelihood because their farms are not viable economic units.   Even for asset-rich and asset-limited farming families, however, the prediction is that a minority of the children in those families will actually remain as farmers.  Others will enter related agri-businesses and others will leave agriculture altogether.  The assumption is that there will be plenty of labor for modernizing farms, and that modernization will/should bring with it better returns, better working conditions, etc.  

I think it is very exciting that young people who will stay in farming and the programs that seek to support them have a rich menu of options to choose from, as exemplified in this discussion.

I should highlight that another key recommendation is to gather and share more data and knowledge so that policy makers and practitioners are choosing form the best practices, and not just the best promoted practices.

Thank you for this dialogue.  It has been very interesting,

Mary McVay

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