Why do I say ‘Youth’ as the fifth dimension of Agriculture Sustainability. What about the rest of the four? It would be fair to begin with the conventional understanding of sustainability that rests on three cores dimensions viz., social, economic and ecological. The golden triangle of sustainability theory stands on addressing social dimension i.e. how humans use or interact with natural resources; the economic dimension i.e. how do humans benefit from these resources and the ecological dimension i.e. the structure or the component of the resource itself.
When we translate this understanding for agriculture sector or an agro-ecosystem, the farming society fits as the social dimension, markets and related value chains constitute the economic dimension, the land as the ecological resource or dimension and crops, the main component of that resource. Traditionally, agriculture was regarded as a cultural activity. In contemporary times it is turning to be an economics-driven process under the influence of multiple factors such as market demand, export dominated mind set, trade, cost-benefit dynamics, and inflation and not to forget- the policy atmosphere.
Food production: Key to ensure global food resilience?
Food production as a key activity to ensure global food security drove intensification of agriculture and also leading to many other impacts that were beyond the direct economic benefit. For example, farmers started to proportionately shift towards ‘low input- high value’ cropping patterns compromising on local indigenous crop varieties and thus causing agrobiodiversity loss. Also, at stake were long-existing local food and nutrient supply and largely, an ensured food security for the community. This observation is undoubtedly a common story in many regions in the world-map with once thriving agrarian societies.
Federal policies in many parts of the world favored such practices through policy support, mainly through subsidized seeds, subsidized energy (electricity, fuel) and subsidized pesticides and fertilizers. As a result, agriculture gained productivity, mechanization and intensification and as well lost things that didn’t figure as most significant. For example, in traditional agriculture system, females were frequently engaged in agriculture activities right from sowing to harvesting to marketing.
Women involvement in Agriculture
Rice cropping regions of Asia is a good example to examine this argument. During a research exercise in South India- Kerala (Bio DIVA) we noted that most farmers are opting out as rice growers and shifting to economically beneficial banana plantations or other high value vegetables. This has led to a considerable decline in rice production in the last three decades and affected women, who worked as rice-planters depriving them of livelihood opportunities.
Interaction with local farmers revealed that they are conscious observers of this change, but not very clear about its long-term consequences. The fact that the regions demand for the essential food grain (rice) is now satisfied by the nearby provinces or other regions in the country, clearly projects the worrying situation. At large, with the changing trends and current transitions in agro-ecosystems management the importance of gender division has diminished considerably. More often, females are left with marginal roles or in many cases there is no involvement. After hard efforts by several experts and institutions to regain the gender dimension in agriculture mainly during last decade, the current discussions on the issues of land ownership, decision on crop selection or income division from the cropland are taking account of perspective of both genders.
The Gender and Agriculture Program of the CGIAR (the Consultative Group on International Agricultural Research) at the global level and bilateral initiatives like BioDIVA at the regional level can be appropriately quoted as some initiatives among others which are ensuring that women are well represented and actively involved in agriculture. As this effort is steering the agriculture growth towards positive change, one can refer to this guided shift as the fourth dimension in Agriculture Sustainability planning and management.
Stimulating the Youth to remain Agriculturists
Our project followed a transdisciplinary approach which means adopting clear ways of interaction with stakeholders on issues outlined in the research outcomes. The goal was to build consensus, set priorities and identify gaps. Towards this, regular multi-stakeholder dialogue sessions were conducted taking account of the stakeholder set up and the local-administrative arrangements. This means not only involving the farmers but also local federal officials who interact with the farming communities on day to day basis related to agriculture issues and civil society organizations.
During one of such workshops -Land Utilization and Agriculture Biodiversity- held in April-2014, the district president of the local governing body –Panchayat clearly mentioned that indifference of young people towards farming activities is something they anticipate will severely impact agriculture production of their region. He stressed that agriculture research activities should factor this dimension and propose ways of stimulating youth to remain as active and enterprising agriculturists.
The missing dimension
It is revealing to note that this observation is drawn at the grassroots level by the stakeholders who are struggling to preserve the ‘culture’ of agriculture against all odds. As the scientific communities draw recommendations based on causes and impacts in several domains like markets, policies, changing climate, degraded soil, irrigation demand, cropping methods and farm management. It would be a gross oversight, if we as a global community fail to pay heed to footing of the agriculture future-THE YOUTH.
The rural youth is not motivated to remain engaged in the agriculture as employment options in other sectors seems to have a better face value (or societal value). Motivated by the thought to secure the future of agriculture, it is imperative that the role of youth is not any longer underestimated. And, it was not until recently that this fifth dimension started to take shape and gather attention. YPARD was a foresight to tackle this emerging situation through its attempt to establish a global drive in stimulating youth evolvement in wide-ranging agriculture research and development activities. However, this fifth dimension still waits to find attention in all initiatives and interventions of the agriculture sector. Ongoing efforts of encouraging youth in agriculture still remain focused on research community or partly on the advocacy sector.
Dr Nidhi Nagabhatla
(Senior Research Scientist- BioDIVA & vice Chair YPARD steering committee)
For more on the research case study refer to: Nagabhatla, N., Padmanabhan, M., Kühle, P.,Vishnudas, S., Betz, L. and Niemeyer, B. 2014. LCLUC as an entry point for transdisciplinary research –reflections from an agriculture land use change study in South Asia. Journal of Environmental Management- (DOI-10.1016/j.jenvman.2014.03.019)- http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0301479714001546
Picture credit: Mr N.K. Rasheed, district panchayat president-Wayanad (India) discussing on youth issues.