Agriculture as a source of livelihood has been around as long as humanity has existed, evolving with humanity and growth in population all around the world. The practice of agriculture has evolved into a full-fledged global industry with many branches and fields of practice. However, the global effort applied to agriculture needs to be doubled if not tripled up to meet the expectations placed on it to feed the world as the population increases.
Agriculture is still developing to catch up with the demands of modern society. Agriculture, although being the world’s largest employer of labour, employing close to 40% of the global workforce, the number of people who decide to continue or start with some agricultural production has been decreasing year in year out, why? Simply because millennials(anyone born between 1981 and 1996) aren’t going to get their hands dirty. Meanwhile,the current farming population is fading, farmers’ average age is 60 and rising;they’re simply growing old with no one to step into their shoes as virtually no young person wants to do the real act of farming for food production. The average age of the farmers (60-63) is quickly correlating with the average life expectancy (60-65), and this speaks loudly to our faces that our farmers are going into extinction,sadly, without replacement.
Taking Nigeria as an example, the youths presently constitute about 60% of Nigeria’s population and have over the years made significant contributions to National Development. But, unfortunately, the present environment makes it even more difficult to explore their full potential in agricultural production and to stimulate youth participation in agriculture.
I won’t Farm
Stop an average young person on the street and ask them if they would love to farm for a living, well your guess is as good as my mine; their answer would be “Hell No, I won’t farm” then go ahead to ask if they would love to be an agro investor, farm produce importer and exporter or a food processor, It’s going to be a ‘Yes!’ in at least 90% of a sampled population of young persons.
The problem isn’t that the millennials lack the understanding of the impact of agriculture on the world or its prospects and opportunities, neither are they oblivious of how much it drives the economy of a Nation, but the fact that Agriculture has a very bad image in our heads. What do I mean? Let’s play a mind game: when you see the word “Farmer” what comes to your mind instantly? Most likely,a picture of an old man or woman with all badges of suffering, a wrinkled face, large hoe on their shoulders, sweating, bent back, stiff knees; the kind of farming practiced in the movie “The Boy who harnessed the wind” by Chiwetel Ejiofor. Then, as an African the next thing you remember is how farming and bush clearing was punishment in your high school. According to Mary Nyale “Agriculture was used a lot in primary and secondary schools as a punishment. Anything bad you do in school, you would be told to go to a farm and till a bit of land.”
All these are somewhat the bad pictures farming holds in our memories especially in Africa and these are exactly why the future of farming and food production has become gloomy and insecure.
Why do we need Millennials in agriculture?
When this generation of experienced farmers retire, who will carry on putting food on the table? Young people are increasingly seeking job opportunities in the cities, sidelining agriculture. Without a new generation to take on the job, the global food supply begins to look very uncertain.
Check this out: According to the World Resources Institute, Feeding 10 billion people sustainably by 2050, requires closing this gap: A 56 percent food gap between crop calories produced in 2010 and those needed in 2050. In other words we need to increase food production, but how do we do this if we watch our farmers slide into extinction?
Agriculture is important to the development of any nation; this development includes fostering the full participation of youth in the agricultural sector. Youths are the successive farming generation and therefore the future of food security in any nation.
Also, the ageing smallholder farmers are less likely to adopt the new technologies needed to sustain increase in agricultural productivity as the effort seeks to change the negative perception of youths in actively participating in agriculture – as farmers are seen as uneducated, unskilled, and physical labourers with extremely low economic return.
How then do we turn the tides: Rebrand Agriculture
A number of solutions are emerging to tackle this ageing crisis in farming. Some of them involve creating new technologies to reduce farmers’ workload so fewer people can get more done, increasing productivity. Some other solutions involve the arguably much harder challenge of tackling the stigma and wrong notion around farming.
The World Health Organization predicts that “ by 2030, 6 out of every 10 people will live in a city, and by 2050, this proportion will increase to 7 out of 10 people” meaning that more young people than ever before are moving to cities and towns in search of a living, leaving few behind to work in rural areas. But come to think of this, maybe we really don’t need people to stay back in the rural areas to farm especially with the advent of various urban farming techniques like roof tops farms, suspending farms, Vertical farming etc.
Let’s quickly do a comparison of the conventional agricultural techniques and certain modern methods:
Conventional methods of farming requires getting a large piece of land to farm on a commercial scale and the use of heavy duty, energy-consuming and environment-depleting mechanical equipment to grow crops, this method has also been tagged as the cause of over 70% of Land use, as people clear out the forest vegetation to cultivate more which is also aiding environmental depletion. Check this out as part of the gap that needs to be filled to feed the proposed world population by 2050
- A 593 million-hectare land gap (an area nearly twice the size of India) between global agricultural land area in 2010 and expected agricultural expansion by 2050; and
- An 11-gigaton GHG mitigation gap between expected agricultural emissions in 2050 and the target level needed to hold global warming below 2oC (3.6°F), the level necessary for preventing the worst climate impacts. (World Resources Institute).
The Modern methods of farming on the other hand, has embraced different environment-friendly and sustainable innovations that allow us use less water, less land surface area andless energy consumption to produce double what we have in conventional farming. These modern methods by doing so also reduces agricultural footprint on the environment. They also do not require that the farmer gets tattered and sun bitten, thus would entice the young generations who are more addicted to their smart devices anyways
Mind Game: Would you now love to be a farmer or not?
Let’s play a mind game again: think about an indoor farm, in a space, with stacked trays of growing beds containing green, fresh plants, in a controlled environment, thriving on 90% less water, with automated monitoring systems powered by IoT, that allows you control and monitor farm processes from anywhere by just punching your phone or tablet, getting real-time reports and data from the farm, that allows you make intelligent decisions to boost crop yields and produce all crops year round, or monitor the temperature and food calories and nutrient intake of your livestock. Imagine the technical control of a farm placed in your palms, on your beloved smart device. Imagine a drone taking photographs of your farm and sending them to a software for analysis to determine growth rate or effect of certain minerals or something? Are you done thinking? Now ask yourself if you want to be a farmer in that kind of farm or not.
That is Agriculture rebranded, to attract Millennials, and fight the food shortage proposed for 2050 by producing food sustainably all year round with little or no impact from and on climatic conditions. This is a wakeup call to all innovators out there, we can rebrand agriculture to fit into a career choice for us, to fit into our smart world, it doesn’t have to remain what has to be done in rural areas, it doesn’t have to remain the way your great grandparents practiced it, It can be done better.