In most developing countries of Asia, smallholder agriculture and rural economy are in a state of severe stress due to continuous neglect of these sectors for over 20 years or more. Smallholder agriculture plays a crucial role in building rural economy and safeguarding rural livelihoods, providing employment to rural youth, assuring food and nutritional security to expanding population, and supporting rural demand for industrial goods and services that are essential for national economic growth. With expanding population and jobless growth in industrial sector, unemployment among youth is becoming a serious challenge to government authorities in Asia. Farming in the present form is also not attractive to youth. As a consequence, young people are migrating to cities in search of better employment and livelihoods. This is a double whammy because it is creating more slums in cities and depleting farm labor in villages. Most of the migrating rural youth are poorly educated and skilled and thus cannot compete for jobs with sophisticated urban youth, so they get frustrated and are easily lured by antisocial elements for carrying out all kinds of illegal activities inside and outside the countries.
This growing rural distress must be addressed as a priority by investing in rural infrastructure; providing adequate technical, institutional and policy support to smallholder agriculture; and training and skill development of rural youth for both farm and non-farm jobs. As per the convicted view of ex-president late Dr. Abdul Kalam, providing urban amenities in rural areas is the only way to reverse the trend of rural to urban migration. It is important to encourage the rural youth undertake agriculture and related enterprises as a profession by making them attractive to them through proper training, skills development, provision of initial capital and inputs, and long-standing support for them to successfully develop their farming and related enterprises – precision farming, specialized crop production (e.g., organic farming), farm machine operation, repair and maintenance of tractors and other farm machines, input retailing, contract service providing, food processing, food transporting and retailing, dairy, backyard poultry, goats and sheep keeping, bee keeping, mushroom production, silk worm rearing, small-scale catering, etc. They can also be trained to develop skills on non-farm enterprises like plumbing, electrical wiring, masonry and construction works, medical attendants, rural health workers, teaching, tailoring, repair and maintenance of TVs, computers and other electronics, and so on to earn a decent living in villages and or nearby towns.
How to make agriculture attractive to rural youth? Here is a recipe for making agriculture attractive to youth: better irrigation, climate-smart technologies; appropriate mechanization; soil health and water quality management; rationalized subsidies and direct transfer of benefits to farmers; and full crop insurance to cover all crop losses and market volatility. Urban farming will enhance local food production, community building, greening of cities, and employment of urban youth. Last but not least, population control is critical for sustainable development. Finally, crop production in weather controlled poly-houses and hydroponic systems in urban and peri-urban areas will be technically sophisticated, more power intensive, and require large initial investment, but it will supply products year-round.
Last but not least, it is important to note that agricultural production cannot be increased forever to feed and support the uncontrolled population growth. According to spiritual guru Jaggi Vasudev (Tamil Nadu, India), there is no way to cap human activities and aspirations, so we need to limit our numbers by reducing our reproductive rate. Nations including India must have the courage, and the world religions must have the sense to see that increasing the population is going to be a disaster for all of us – for every creature on earth, not just for humanity.