Today around 25% of rural population in India are between ages 15 and 29 (2001 Census). The Tenth Five-Year Plan (2002-2007) has estimated that India’s labour force will increase faster than the ability of the economy to create new working opportunities.
The country is adding 2 million young people to the ranks of the unemployed every year. The Plan document estimates that open unemployment could be as high as 5% at the end of the Tenth Plan period, from 2.8% at present. This is likely to entail tremendous costs, including social unrest and dislocation. The result is that a large number of youth are unemployed or underemployed.
In India and in many developing countries the majority of the work force is employed in agriculture. However, stagnating agricultural productivity and rural environmental degradation have made agriculture a last option. As the environment on which their livelihoods depend becomes more and more degraded, rural youth face diminished prospects of employment. Not only do these youth lack income, they lack a means of gaining respect and a sense of belonging in their communities.
Unable to find decent employment, youth often look for employment in the urban informal sector, with poor working conditions and pay. But without training in skills suited to the urban labour market, these youth have few opportunities in urban areas. Inadequately trained to compete successfully in urban labour markets, they often suffer worse levels of poverty and marginalization in towns than in rural areas.
A key to surmounting rural poverty is to revitalize agriculture. The challenge for agriculture is to provide gainful employment and better incomes for people as well as meet growing demands for food, also in a way which does not do more damage to rural ecosystems. This issue brings out examples and initiatives of efforts of youth, as well as those working and inspiring youth.
Preparing young people
While a majority of the population in India continue to live on farming, yet farming has hardly received attention in the present educational system. Even the rural children are hardly exposed to what is basic to their lives. However, a few institutions are making efforts to fill this knowledge gap.
For instance, Puvidham, a Learning Center in Tamil Nadu is providing life education to tribal children where farming is treated as a very important activity emphasizing its importance in the overall picture of life. Children in this school learn by doing. Learning farming is fun to these children where they mark their plot of land to grow plants, they measure the plot, draw it to scale, design the rows, decide what they want to plant, and calculate the quantity of seed they will need. They mulch, water and watch their plants grow (Meenakshi, p. 15).
Not only rural children, efforts are made to help urban children understand the importance and nuances of farming. The Field School in Kaliget Organic Farm in Indonesia has proved that with little investment but conducive conditions, a bias against agriculture, an indifference vis a vis nature can easily be transformed into a positive and inquisitive attitude of learning, discovering and loving nature.(Paul ter Weel, p. 13)
Education and training for change
With little education and lack of opportunities within and outside farming, majority of the rural youth do not know what to do for earning their livelihoods. Traditional wisdom is neither easily available nor accessible. On the other hand, the youth also see high risk, high input agriculture being practiced with unpredictable returns. They have been observing their parents, following conventional farming, toiling hard on the farms, hardly making a decent living. For young people to take to agriculture, farming must be both intellectually satisfying and economically rewarding, says M S Swaminathan. And this can happen only when the way farming is done is changed. Ecological farming based on nurturing and nourishing the natural resources is highly sustainable and rewarding. It is important that the youth are exposed to this wonderful world of ecological farming. But this requires investment in terms of building awareness, knowledge, skills and capacities. Training and human resource development is crucial in bringing young people into sustainable farming.
Baduku, a unique college offers courses on “alternative livelihoods” where an attempt is made to carve out meaningful livelihoods that address key social and ecological challenges of our times (Manjunath, p. 8). Young farmers are taken through a season-long process educating and training them on the concept and practice of sustainable agriculture.
Rural youth have not only the potential to make agriculture sustainable but are also assets in the rural communities. With proper guidance, they can lead communities towards achieving local food security. Towards achieving this, AME Foundation has been training and guiding rural youth in the villages to serve as Sustainable Agriculture Promoters in promoting eco-friendly practices. The rural youth trained through season long FFS not only become better farmers but also better farm guides enabling sustainability of the change processes (p. 34).
Promoting entrepreneurship is yet another way of helping rural youth to make a living in rural areas. According to The World Youth Report, 2011, at least 20 per cent of unemployed youth worldwide have the potential to become entrepreneurs, but less than 5 per cent do so. A supportive environment that creates conditions for entrepreneurship needs to be developed.
Several institutions are making efforts towards this end. For instance, RUDSETI, a training organization sets out to train a large number of rural youth across various places in India. Today, these young farmers have not only proved that farming could be a very remunerative business but also have shown a way to the other unemployed youth that villages are the place their future lies in (Ravi Prakash, p. 11).
Innovative young farmers
While many young farmers are disillusioned with farming as a livelihood choice, we can also find a number of young farmers who are motivated to be in farming. These are the ones who see farming as a passion, and get involved deeply, continuously learning and innovating. Nandish (p. 20) a young farmer in Karnataka describes a farm in one sentence. He says “Farm is a place where you feel all your senses”. An ideal farm is that where you feel cool air, can sense the aroma of soil, flowers, fruits; can see colorful creatures; can taste variety of vegetables and fruits, and hear the sounds of bees, birds, animals as in the forest. To achieve this he says that one should farm with a lot of understanding and have a desire to live with other living beings.
Not only rural youth, we also see many educated youth going back to farming with passion. Mr. Aravindan an MBA by qualification is a role model for many young farmers in Kovil veerakudi village and surrounding areas (p. 25). Another example is that of Anurag and Sujata Goel who walked away from promising careers in lab research and urban living to live a more organic way of life.(p. 22)
More and more young educated people are finding their own ways to get back to nature. For instance the young graduates of Agricultural University in Pantnagar through Vivekanand Swadhyay Mandal are being moulded into development agents to bring about a change in the agriculture scenario as change agents. This model based on ethics and social values is helping shape the lives of many young people making them socially responsible, professionally sharp and nationally proud (Keswani, Upreti and Papnai, p. 26).
Moving forward and making a difference
Youth are the present and the future of nations. A well educated and trained population gives a country enormous potential for economic and social development. It is important that youth are both viewed as an investment opportunity and are treated as partners in the development process. Direct investment in rural youth is required. A direct approach involves measures that focus on improving the quality of life and productivity of rural small holders and landless young men and women.
The ultimate goal of any development programme is to improve quality of life, and this can be achieved only when people are selfreliant and self-motivated. Youth who are well-organised, provided with appropriate training, opportunities and incentives, have the capacity to engage in enterprises that bring both economic and social benefits. Rural institutions at the grassroots level need to be strengthened. Youth should be part of designing and implementing programmes that bring benefit to the entire rural community.