• Grahame Dixie, Executive Director, Grow Asia

“It’s Cool to be a Farmer”: Professionalizing Agriculture to Attract Youth

JAKARTA – At the recent Jakarta Food Security Summit, one of the most interesting and certainly most fun sessions I attended was focused on promoting agriculture and farming to young people. The session was led by Bayer, with Jens Hartmann, Bayer’s Head, Region Asia Pacific 1, Crop Science Division, and the new Co-Chair of the Grow Asia Business Council, discussing the potential and profitability of farming to a crowd of excited young people. He highlighted how agriculture is harnessing modern technology such as drones, smart phones and data to stay ahead of the curve, and that farming can be very profitable.

Stories from the audience’s peers helped illustrate the possibilities the industry can offer, with a young farmer from the Bayer Youth Agriculture scheme sharing his story of entrepreneurship and progress, and how he transitioned to higher value and profitable mixed crops. A video showcased innovative young farmers selling flowers, growing high value crops and producing goats – all vivid examples of the innovation, profitability, and opportunity occurring in today’s farming sector.

The evolution of farming

It is easy to take a pessimistic and common approach by thinking that one day nobody will be left to farm, as today’s farmers will have retired or passed away and all the young people will have left farming for well-paid city jobs. Personally, I do not take this view. Hearing about the launch of a new PISAgro Working Group on agricultural vocational training, supported by Bayer, provided a welcome blowback to negative thinking.

Looking back 150-200 years ago, almost all developed countries had large numbers of farmers who comprised around 40% of total jobs. Now, around 2% of jobs in developed countries are on farms. This means that for every one farmer today, there used to be 20. However, this one farmer is a highly skilled professional, farming a larger tract of land. This process did not happen overnight but over many decades and through education and training.

We should also remain cognisant that today many new jobs are appearing in the food value chain, from input supply (such as seeds, fertilizer and chemicals) to the added value enterprises that take farm production to the consumer – in logistics, storage, marketing, processing and food preparation.

Embracing the future

The lesson is that you don’t need large numbers of farmers to feed the world. Fewer, larger and better family farmers will make a difference and lift people out of poverty. But these farmers need to be supported to become professional farmers, and they need skills and expertise to farm larger pieces of land and deliver high productivity levels. In other areas of the world, the creation of a land market has achieved this, particularly in terms of land leasing and tenancy.

Although some farmers will remain focused on subsistence, and others will choose to seek jobs outside of agriculture, research shows there is a cadre of younger people who want to become better farmers than their parents. We haven’t yet understood all of what they need. But early studies are showing that young people are typically interested in higher value sectors such as animal proteins, high value crops and value additions. They are also far more open than their parents to new technologies – whether it is hybrid cows or being willing to pay for digital information.

Students from PISAgro’s new Working Group joined Bayer’s session to share their future plans, and they were uniformly enthusiastic, inspiring, and passionate about starting farming enterprises.

By the end of the session, the audience of 100 young people was punching the air with enthusiasm and chanting in Bahasa “It’s cool to be a farmer” – an inspiring and encouraging sight for everyone in the agriculture industry.

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