Last year, during the World Bank’s Open Forum organized to address the world’s food crisis, we brainstormed for ideas on how to provide food for almost one billion people who go to bed hungry every day. Many solutions were offered, but one of the ideas from the World Bank’s Facebook page made an impression on me. Julius Ayi wrote: “I believe governments must also encourage youth to work in agriculture.”
Ask a young person what they wish for their future, and very few will mention agriculture. Youth are not interested in the agriculture sector, which is perceived as unglamorous and without much profit. This of course raises the question: who will grow the crops to feed the world?
People do not realize how important agriculture is, what it is, and what it means to society. You could say that it is the very first business, but most people think of it as some redneck mowing a field. In fact, agriculture is hard work, and the whole nation depends on it. It affects the life of every individual.
The non-availability of qualified manpower, flawed government policies, public aversion to farming, unviable and conventional farming methods, and inadequate agricultural education are the major handicaps of Nepali farming. Educated youth consider agriculture a less than glamorous job. However, this should not be taken for granted; we need to encourage more people to take it up as a career. We need to interact with people, both in farming and non-farming sectors, and identify innovative and enterprising people who can make farming more attractive and profitable.
“Farming is dirty and messy. If truth be told, most of the time it’s rather grimy. It is incapable of tackling the bigger concerns of economic boost, self-employment, entrepreneurship, sustainability and societal well-being. The world ‘culture’ actually has no place in agri-culture,” said Swikriti Pandey, a student of agriculture at Nepal Agriculture and Forestry University. No doubt, instead of culture, it is time to add innovative terms to the word ‘Agri’, such as Agri-enterprise, Agri-business, Agri-tourism, and so on.
Every agriculture planner, scientist and expert agrees that there should be a balance between education, research and implementation in agriculture. But in Nepal, the relationship between these three pillars is given very little weight. Academic institutions do not know what kind of graduate and post graduate students they should produce, research institutions are not aware of the kind of technical products they should develop, and the big problems of agriculture are ineffectively addressed.
To make Nepali agriculture competitive, there is a need to substantially increase investment, in agriculture in general, and in research in particular. In order to meet the challenges of agriculture, agricultural universities should focus their curricula on relevant researches on agriculture and forest sectors. In recent times, information technology sector is booming, propelled by the rapidly growing usage of mobile phones and internet services. Mobile phones can help in agriculture and rural development by providing information to farmers about supply and demand, market opportunities, and much more. Agriculture professionals are more and more interested in the potential uses of ICT for rural development, while these tools also continue to be popular among young people.
With a click of a mouse, a farmer in Kathmandu can upload and share pictures of maize planting practices to thousands of followers worldwide. A farmer from another corner of the world can comment on that picture and ask why he planted his crops the way he did. Over a period, each farmer has the knowledge to help him plant a better crop the next time. Meanwhile, thousands of agriculture students across the world are watching this conversation unfold, and learning from both these farmers.
I agree with, Eugene F Ware that “The farmer works the soil. The agriculturalist works the farmer.” It means, if farmer fails, all agriculturists fail. One of the things missing in today’s agriculture is imagination. Today’s generation of farmers, teachers, agricultural scientists, policymakers, and also the media have collectively failed to trigger the imagination of the youth. Yes, there are major challenges. Farming is not an easy or glamorous option, but there are ways of doing agriculture in a sustainable and rewarding manner.
The author (Dinesh Panday) is Nepal Representative to Young Professionals’ Platform for Agricultural Research for Development (YPARD)
This article was originally published on REPUBLICA Daily of 6, June 2013 http://www.myrepublica.com/portal/index.php?action=news_details&news_id=55725