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In probably every country in the world, young people are leaving rural areas in the hope of better opportunities in the towns and cities.

Many may have witnessed their parents and grandparents spend a lifetime surviving on a tiny income, perhaps as small-holder farmers, never having much to show for their effort. No wonder they are attracted by the possibilities of well-paid work in the towns!

Agriculture is a profitable business rather than purely for family and community subsistence is an indicator of the different views and aspirations of the new generation of farmers.

While these may challenge more traditional ways of working, embracing them is key to revitalising agriculture in this country.

The challenge will be to keep the best of traditional systems and traditional knowledge, but move them into the 21st century, with all the opportunities that brings.

To what extent this migration of young people from the rural areas is a good or a bad thing will vary from country to country.

But it would seem clear that if the most talented young people are leaving rural areas and agriculture, it poses a serious problem, not least in terms of future food security. This comes at a time when increasing urbanisation and population are placing higher demands on agriculture than ever before.

Farming systems need to be both more productive and more sustainable; this requires new ways of farming, and farmers who are capable of responding to new challenges, not least the changing demands of food markets.

To put it simply, while it is inevitable that some young people will decide to leave the rural areas, all countries need to find ways to encourage able and motivated young people to stay in rural areas, and if possible, to stay working in agriculture.

Different countries and organisations have different definitions of youth – and obviously programmes will vary according to the age of the target group.

Research suggests that by the age of 15 most people have well-established ways of thinking and behaving. Hence if organisations wish to influence the behaviour and ideas of young people, they may need to ‘catch them young’. For some, that will mean a school-based focus, which could either be innovative or traditional.

One way to motivate young people to stay in agriculture is to involve them in agricultural development projects.

If young people are to choose to work in agriculture they need to see it as both a financially rewarding sector, and as modern and challenging.

However, for many young people, farming is perceived as old-fashioned, offering little opportunity for making money, and generally being something that you do if you fail your school exams, and cannot get a paid job in some other business. Those who decide to make a living from farming can feel ashamed in front of their friends.

The formal economy is unable to create enough employment opportunities to absorb this constant supply of labour-seeking youth. Whatever the solution to this multilevel problem, a great deal of coordination and deft thinking will be required to attract gadget-loving and efficiency-prone young people into the agricultural sector.

As such, motivating the youth to view agriculture as a career opportunity will require a multilevel intervention.

First, those within the school system must be targeted, second, those outside the school system must be lured and sensitised.

How should this be done? Simple! Teach them by delivering age-appropriate information inside and outside the formal school system and dangle the carrot.

The absence of agriculture from the curriculum, particularly at the compulsory levels of education, should be addressed.

Partnerships with the education sector to integrate agriculture into primary- and secondary-school curricula must take place so that the youth can see its broad-based and compulsory inclusion with the appropriate resources and will help to motivate youth towards having a more favourable view of employment opportunities in the agricultural sector.

Similarly, those youth outside the formal education system must also be targeted and wooed towards agriculture. This may be done through a comprehensive, national out-of-school livelihoods project designed to meet the needs and expectations of today’s youth.

There ought to be the creation of ongoing initiatives to support youth in agricultural enterprises, and opportunities to showcase their successes in order to attract more young people.

There should also be the incorporation of information communication technologies such as the Internet, mobile phones, computers, and global positioning systems, associated or not with traditional communication technologies such as radio, television, print and video.

Information and communication Technologies (ICTs) are drivers for change in agriculture and their impact in the economic, social, cultural, political and individual spheres of life is widely accepted and recognised world over.

ICTs give the young generation a whole range of opportunities; socializing & exposure, employment and conducting research among others.

It is widely accepted that the use of ICTs can have a major influence on how youth practice agriculture now and in the future. ICTs help make agricultural practices more responsive to the diverse needs of individual farmers needs and can help make the agric environment more conducive to client’s wellbeing.

ICT-based agricultural training can also be useful in helping out- of-school youth especially the girl child who have not made it to higher institutions of learning to acquire skills like operating and maintaining computer hardware as well as carrying out ICT related businesses.

Information and Knowledge Sharing

Finding ways to increase the availability of and access to financial services among the youth in both urban and rural areas is a huge challenge and requires among other things good knowledge of entrepreneurship investment opportunities as well as the particular needs of the youth.

Agriculture has been portrayed to us (The youth) as an activity of failures in life, that requires lots of energy, that is practiced by the people in rural areas and one that is less rewarding compared to other professions like medicine, architecture and law among others.

ICTs can work as a platform for advocacy and for facilitating networking activities such as mobilizing youth to reach out to policy makers to include them in government programs and policies. In this way, their negative perception about agriculture will change.

Youth should be targeted in strategies for increased agriculture productivity. According to The FAO, many agricultural extension offices include rural youth programming as an integral part of their work, to help young farmers apply new practices and improved technology.

Experience has shown that younger farmers are an appropriate target for such programs, as they will be more open to new ideas and practices than older farmers.

‘Information is power’ so each and every one should have a right to information and communication.

ICTs can work as a platform for advocacy and for facilitating networking activities such as mobilizing youth to reach out to policy makers to include them in government programs and policies. In this way, their negative perception about agriculture will change.

Youth should be targeted in strategies for increased agriculture productivity. According to The FAO, many agricultural extension offices include rural youth programming as an integral part of their work, to help young farmers apply new practices and improved technology.

Experience has shown that younger farmers are an appropriate target for such programs, as they will be more open to new ideas and practices than older farmers.

Agripreneur

Entrepreneurship in agriculture is becoming increasingly important. It offers opportunities for becoming independent, generating revenue and creating a future that straightforward subsistence farming often struggles to provide.

When it works, agripreneurship can help re-brand agriculture as an attractive career, especially for youth. In the eyes of some young people, it is one thing ploughing fields to plant potatoes, but quite another being the head of a small business that produces potato snacks.

Becoming an agripreneur is not a career path to be undertaken lightly. Entrepreneurs have to be prepared to take calculated risks. They also need to be creative, innovative and resourceful, be ready to put in long hours of hard work, cope with stress, and weather the bleak periods as well as the good ones.

Good agricultural training is essential. But so too is training in business skills, marketing and ICTs. Agripreneurs need to know about costing and pricing, break-even analysis, production planning, marketing, book-keeping, contracts and financing. An agripreneur needs to have a clear idea of market forces. What do consumers really want, and what will they pay a premium for?

At the end of the day, it is also worth remembering that agripreneurs do not have to do it alone.

Establishing good networking and joining with others to form an effective value chain is the winning formula.

10th MP

Agriculture nowadays has already become a major mechanism to boost the economic activities of most part of the world including Malaysia.

Agriculture offers a lot of attractive activities and businesses. The most popular agriculture activities are fisheries and agro-based industry. The rise of new contract farming activities such as leech rearing, worms rearing, herbs and mushroom have indeed attracted huge interests from the public.

Youth constituted almost half of Malaysian citizens and this has contributed vastly to a massive unemployment rate among youth as the latest statistics show that the current rate of unemployment among youth in Malaysia is 4%.

Encouraging youth participation in modern agriculture methods can overcome the rate of unemployment in this country.

In the 10th Malaysia Plan (2011 -2015, agriculture is one of the specific targets and concrete actions to drive economic growth (NKEA).

Government agencies such as the Department of Agriculture in collaboration with the government linked companies (GLCs) such as Khazanah Nasional Berhad’s subsidiary, Blue Archipelago, will take the lead in establishing modern agriculture businesses in rural areas such as environmentally sustainable aquaculture and organic farming.

This will include building facilities, establishing markets, obtaining the required certification and establishing processes based on good agricultural practices.

Rural entrepreneurs will initially work as apprenticed employees in the businesses to build better understanding of business management, marketing and operational processes.

Upon completion of the apprenticeship, they will be offered to buy over the business, funded through future profits of the enterprise.

In addition, to supporting entrepreneurs to create businesses on a sustainable scale, the programme will also provide employment opportunities for the rural community and to be part of a supply network.

Doubtlessly, information contributes much to gearing youths to participate actively in innovative farming methods. Information would be able to facilitate knowledge regarding new agricultural and rural business opportunities and ways and means to optimize farm production.