Agriculture sector employing 66 percent of the total population and providing 27.60 percent of Gross Domestic Product (GDP) needs to be developed in such a way that it can transform the economy of the country. Since agriculture is a science, its development is possible through the use of improved inputs, technology, research and innovation, knowledge and skills among others. Involvement of educated or skilled people especially the youth in this sector is therefore a must. Ironically, agriculture which supplies food, the basic necessities of life has an image problem especially amongst the educated youth. It is not looked at as a viable sector of employment and remains highly unattractive to them due to the risks, intensive nature, low profitability and little room for career advancement. Traditional and subsistence farming practiced from time immemorial has been the prerogative of old age and uneducated people. Current agricultural practices, therefore, are neither economically profitable nor environmentally sustainable. In order to match the increasing demand of food grains and that too the nutritious food to the ever increasing population skewed to the urban area, enhancement of agricultural outputs and productivity is sine qua non to ensure food sovereignty, sustainable industrial development, creation of employment and poverty reduction. Achieving this would require critical understanding of the challenges faced by the youth at the production node of the agricultural value chain and the prospects of youth engagement in agriculture. Empowering youth to tackle climate change and adopt climate smart techniques in agriculture is essential for future food security.
Considering that Nepal is going through a youth bulge with close to 20.8 percent of total population within the age group 16-25 years while 40.68 percent in the age group 16-40 years, there is urgent need to think of availing youth bulge creating environment to utilize their skill and talents in agriculture field rather than remittance earning akin to Dutch disease. The burgeoning youth should be seen as assets for transforming Nepali agriculture because they possess unique capabilities like dynamism, strength, adventure and ambition etc. Since, youth represent the most active segment of the population and the engine, this group of young population is sure to contribute to the economic development of the country if provided with proper learning and work opportunity. Nepal has to invest in education, skills development, empowerment and employment to get benefitted from the demographic dividend. Only the young people can transform the agriculture sector by applying new technologies and new thinking. If agriculture is made more remunerative and rewarding in terms of income and profitability, the youth would indeed be attracted to the sector.
Youth’s limited access in land, lack of value addition to agriculture, limited access to finance, market, information, knowledge and skills, and most importantly their non-involvement in policy dialogues are some of the major challenges that restrict youth involvement in agriculture.
In this backdrop, transformation of agriculture remains a wishful thinking unless youth centered policies and plans are in place. Youth land rights along with land lease and rental to facilitate youth access to land, provision of youth venture capital fund or challenge fund to support start-up capital, establishment of agri-business incubation center, youth enterprise loan, enterprise development support, distance learning for young farmers, development of ICT based agricultural solutions, involvement of youth in drafting of agriculture related policies and laws could be the ways to induce young people in agriculture. Moreover, communicating the youth that agriculture is an industry either on a small scale or large scale is ever productive, and that the agriculture sector offers huge potential for job creation can radically change their image of agriculture.
Agricultural and vocational training are critical so as to equip the youth with requisite skills and overall sensitization on agricultural technologies. Establishment and strengthening networks of youth involved in food and agriculture, distance learning for young farmers to enhance their knowledge and skills could be other likely steps to attract and retain the youth in agriculture.
Without making any delay, let us learn from Israel, a country of desert where involvement of only 2 percent of population in agriculture feeds not only its entire populace but also exports food grains to other countries. Adoption of new technology, knowledge and research based production system, economies of scale in big plots of land, promotion of value chain activities, involvement of educated people in agriculture industry, has resulted in increased agriculture output and productivity.
With the conviction that Nepali youth have the potential to transform the agriculture sector if provided with learning and work opportunity, Small Farmers Development Microfinance Financial Institution (SKBBL) in collaboration with the Israel government “under Learn and Earn” Program has so far managed to send more than 2100 young sons and daughters of small scale farmers to the training colleges of agriculture in Israel. Of these, more than 1600 have already returned and are undertaking commercial agriculture/livestock in different parts of the country showcasing agriculture as a profitable venture. The government’s plan to double the agriculture production in five years can take its real shape only if unique capabilities of youth can be utilized in transformation of agriculture sector. To this, initiation of SKBBL, inter alia, to send the youth in Israel to learn modern agriculture technologies, needs further policy as well as financial support which could be instrumental to attract and retain the youth in agriculture enterprises.
If the current constraints faced by the youth in agriculture are not addressed, the notion of youth being future farmers might be a myth. However, with the targeted intervention, the youth can still be at the forefront of revitalizing the agricultural sector and the sector could be a potential source of gainful employment for the vast unemployed and underemployed Nepali youth.