Tanya, a master’s student at the University of Gastronomic Sciences, discusses youth in farming in India...
I belong to the farmer clan in my home country of India, and after my great-grandfather passed away nobody in my family went into the agriculture sector, although we still have some small land holdings in our ancestral village. Why did I never think of becoming a farmer? Was that even put forward as a career option for me or for any other youth in my country, apart from the ones living in the villages? The answer is that where I’m from, even in the modern era, farming is not viewed as a respectable activity.
In India, the agricultural sector is the leading employer of young people in rural areas. However, due to over-capitalization of farming, lack of electricity and proper irrigation systems, and increasing fragmentation of land holdings—which has contributed to the rapid rate of farmer suicides—nowadays more and more youngsters are turning their backs on this work and migrating to cities.
Education has not really penetrated the ethos of rural India, which is predominantly feudal in content. One of my distant cousins, who lived in the village but later moved to the capital in search of job, told me that he was keen to work in his father’s fields, but the traditional leadership system is dominated by the elderly, and so he had no say in decisions related to the farming policies. Also, as there are no defined retirement structures for the existing leaders in the Gram panchayatas (local self-governments in villages), these older decision-makers impose their out-dated work ethic, thereby giving no space to the modern ideas of the young people. Over time, this makes them hesitant to take up leadership roles, as they start doubting their own abilities. Due to the poor interaction between generations, the elderly do not trust the youth, which in turn slowly forces them to move out of their homes in search of other work options. Youngsters who remain in villages compare themselves to their friends who have moved to the towns and cities and are doing other jobs. For them, it is most important that they should do as well economically as those who are in service industries and business, which again becomes a contributing factor to their giving up on farming.
Another social deterrent is that it is only men who are considered farmers. Women’s immense contribution to household food security in India remains largely invisible. Although the majority of the female workforce in India is engaged in agriculture, most women don’t have land rights. Gender discrimination runs deep at many levels. They manage every aspect of farm work, but it is still not considered a real occupation for women.
The only way of making farming appealing to the youth is by making it seem trendy—that is, by creating an image of importance around it. An environment that fosters this image has to be created in order to encourage young people to get involved in agriculture. They have to be introduced to modern technologies and ideas about communication, combining technical training with life skills. Men and women both have to be given equitable access to land resources and opportunities, as well as shared power and decision making. There is a need to introduce agricultural literacy programs in school, so that students view it as an important profession. Emphasis should also be laid on the need to promote agricultural education and leadership development in universities, so that it reinforces interest among youth.
The antithesis to an established idea or theory can lead to a synthesis (or solution) at a given point of time. My stay in UNISG has helped me to develop an antithesis for fast food. Further, our field trips to different farms and interaction with farmers and entrepreneurs has helped me to strengthen the idea that the Slow Food movement can only survive and consolidate if agriculture, indigenous knowledge, and tradition and local biodiversity are appreciated both as a scientific concept and as a way of life and earning. Only then will it be a continuum of occupation and a means for sustenance of generations, including the present youth.
Tanya is a masters student at the University of Gastronomic Sciences. Find out more about the university at www.unisg.it.