The farming population is endangered.
This is no scaremongering. According to a local report. in the Philippines, an agriculture-driven nation, the average age of farmers is 57-59 years old,. In a report by Food and Agricultural Organization (FAO), few young people around the world ever envision a future for themselves in the agricultural sector. This means there will be fewer farmers globally once the older retire.
What does that imply? On one hand, it might have little impact on the developed countries as robots and machines could serve as backup forces. On the other, it would be a doomsday for developing countries, wherein agriculture remains a significant source of national income. What’s worse, globally speaking, is that the diminishing number of farmers threatens food security and thwarts progress in fighting against hunger.
Stumbling blocks in the field
Rice field in Lombok, Indonesia
Photo by Surya Prakosa
This would not be as easy as said considering multiple hindering factors. The most obvious is without a doubt the allure of cities. The Internet and textbooks have already fed the rural youth with enough fantasies about the lofty skyscrapers, dazzling neon lights and most importantly, the prospect of more decent and better-paid jobs. The disconnect between the rustic tranquility and the urban grandeur gradually pushes them to leave their rural hometowns for cities.
An FAO research also identifies several key obstacles for youth to join the ranks of farmers.
To begin with, the lack of access to professional knowledge, information and education in agriculture is worrying. For instance, women in the remote areas of developing countries are often deprived of their chances to go to school, which undermines their capacity development in managing their lands. Equally, information silos which hinder the free flow of knowledge, also discourage young people from engaging and competing with experienced farmers.
Secondly, land resources are also a great concern. Though some lands can be passed down from previous generations, loan services and inheritance laws or customs are in need of improvement in most developing countries. Similarly, when starting a farm, financial instruments like loans and agricultural insurances are fundamental in sustaining the enterprise, albeit the relatively left-behind infrastructure.
Last but not the least, young people might wince at the thought of inaccessible markets. With limited contact with buyers as well as the growing need to obtain certification to ensure trust, it is difficult for them to make profits from farm produce.
When the agricultural sector presents such bleak prospects, it is no wonder that the farming population is getting older with time. Nevertheless, as food concerns the basic right to development for everyone in the world, governments have been seeking effective methods to re-engage the rural youth, through assistance in financing, education, etc. Meanwhile, from a bottom-up perspective, there are also immense opportunities to pitch in and “save” our farmers.
NGOs on the go
Agricultural social enterprises all around the world are flourishing to rise to the challenge. Here are three examples:
1. Agropreneur Initiative
In Uganda, smallholder farmers find it extremely hard to get credit to cultivate their lands. It is to this end that Agropreneur Initiative was brought to life in 2015 by Brian Mangeni. The objective is to support these farmers with in-kind input loans for 6 months at an interest rate of 15% and guaranteed by community leaders and the farmer’s harvest. According to Brian’s account, it has so far offered loans worth over $100,000 to over 310 Ugandan farmers which increased their household incomes by over 54% and influenced over 3600 lives. Apart from financing aid, Agropreneur also provides farmer training and a farm-to-market service by buying up all the farmers’ produce to remove difficulties in market access.
Recognized as the “leading social enterprise in Indonesia that works with a vast range of biodiverse community-based organic food products using ethical principles”, Javara is a successful Indonesian agri-enterprise with a history of around 10 years. Its founder, Helianti Hilman, a young and inspiring entrepreneur, saw the significance in old wisdom so she partnered with indigenous communities for their know-how in food processing and wiser preservation of such an intangible heritage. Javara now sells over 600 kinds of artisanal products and cooperates with 50,000 smallholder farmers. It’s worth mentioning that Helianti has been given several awards and so is Javara, which was named by Forbes Indonesia to be among the 20 Top Global Rising Stars and awarded by the Indonesian government with Intellectual Property Rights Award. Through this enterprise, Helianti not only helps preserve the old tradition but also creates a new channel for agricultural development and youth engagement.
3. Siphiwe Honey Gold Farm and Preserve
In Bahamas, the importance of youth is also recognized to sustain the agricultural industry. As a well-recognized enterprise, Siphiwe Honey Gold Farm and Preserve was established by Raynard Christopher Burnside in the Bahamas in 2010. In his search for a job, he happened to receive some tips when serving as a tour guide and later opened his agro-eco-lodges business. More than a resort for tourists, the Farm and Preserve is an ideal place for environmental education, conservation of nature with eco-friendly architectural design, low-energy electrical appliances and proper waste management. Most importantly, workshops and outdoor learning facilities are provided where young people are instructed on sustainable best practices and agricultural entrepreneurship. So far, a number of students already become community mentors to empower and inspire more young people to participate in the agri industry.
Want to be a part of it?
Food is the paramount necessity of the people, as a Chinese saying goes. With hunger still haunting around, there’s little hope for a thriving community. Confronted with the tendency of fewer food suppliers, everyone needs to do their own part.
For young people, instead of gravitating towards the concrete jungle of cities, they may think twice by researching on the farm produce market and other information on their local agricultural industry. Particularly, today we emphasize a lot on the concept of sustainable agriculture, which entails reducing carbon emissions.
For others, investing in facilitating youth participation in agriculture is of tremendous importance. Considering all the hurdles described above, local initiatives will be conducive for drawing more young people into farms, whether it is a brick-and-mortar training center or an online trade platform.
In a nutshell, adversities abound in sustaining agricultural human resources, though we oftentimes take it for granted that the industry will surely last. Before the day when unmanned agricultural technologies like drones become a viable and accessible choice for all, it is still imperative for us to maintain a continuous supply of human resources in farms. Regardless of the projects we will launch, where there are farmers, there’s food.