Advocating for the active Engagement of the Youth in the Agricultural Value Chain

19 - 23 September 2011
Ezulwini, Swaziland

To be or not to be

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Date: 
22 July 2011
Source: 
Indian Weekender
Article content: 

Young, award-winning agriculture student from Fiji, Riten Chand Gosai, urges young people to consider agriculture as a potentially successful career, while dispelling the myths surrounding this important but much neglected occupation

Pondering on an idyllic prelude for this article, I remembered my English literature classes back at high school and studying the drama 'Hamlet' - legend of a prince who at one stage of his life is in great dilemma. He contemplates over surviving the harshness of the living world contrary to the peacefulness of death. Similarly, we all face this 'to be or not to be' decision in secondary school; or should I say 'to do or not to do' decision when it comes to choosing our subject combinations. Just like Hamlet found it hard to capitulate to death as he would be termed frail, many students find it difficult to opt for 'agriculture' with the trepidation of being labelled 'taking the easy way out' or 'a future farmer' - trust me, I was. Agriculture seems to be a harsh pill to swallow for many students.

In Fiji's contextual scenario, this age old mindset of youths is a result of dire experiences they typically encounter at home and at school. While the national priority is to achieve certain degree of self-sufficiency in staple produce and livestock, agriculture and particularly agricultural studies is not receiving similar lime-light; the response to which I discovered in this motivating quote: "farmers are getting older while farms are getting larger and more industrialized - the economy continues to stumble. What can we do to keep agriculture sustainable? The most valuable crop we can grow is the next generation"...

However, there are two commonplace phenomenons that keep youths in a lumber whether to take up agricultural studies and develop it into a career. First being the 'family expectations' and secondly, the 'experiences at school'.

In my opinion, the family unit is extremely influential in how a person's career takes shape. In that perspective, it is common knowledge that parents with certain expectations from their children always prefer them pursuing white collar jobs; a total disregard for agricultural studies and related careers. This viewpoint is due to the fact that farming has been a tough ask for them (especially with the indentured 'Girmit' system in the colonial era and the lack of farm mechanization/ technology in previous years). Majority perceive their children will go through the same ordeal without realizing agriculture/farming has modernised in various ways and with scientific knowledge, innovative ideas and effective organization, they can be entrepreneurs of highly profitable farm businesses or take-up well-off professions.

A survey by the Secretariat of the Pacific Community’s Land Resources Division which is entailed in the 'Youth and Agriculture Strategy 2011 - 2015' states that young people identified the importance of family support as central to their engagement in agricultural activities and enterprises. At the same time, these young people expressed the desire to be acknowledged, emotionally and financially, for such contributions and for the supporting role they played within their families. If young people are to be encouraged to develop into successful agricultural entrepreneurs their families must recognise that they must be facilitated in accessing land and finance and in controlling the financial returns from their activities. These activities though, must be separate from their contributions to family or community agriculture.

Furthermore in my observation, an issue which is not much deliberated about and goes unchallenged is the discouragement students receive in school when it comes to agricultural studies. This is more or less a consequence of pre-conceived ideas they acquire at home or the ones imposed on them by peers and teachers alike. While conversing with several secondary school students in the quest for factual accounts, I recognized that it is in the understanding of many young people that agriculture is any 'easy' subject, not attractive and for average students. They also deem that agricultural studies do not lead to noble professions; providing evidence of their slender outlook of the diverse agricultural field and serious lack of career advice. Students can also develop this negative attitude if teachers impress upon them that agriculture is a less worthwhile subject to pursue then others and use agriculture as a means of discipline or punishment.

I have felt the brunt of this harsh reality first hand. When asked about my subject combinations at school or bachelors programme at university, a reply of agricultural science always attracted reactions of "oh ok", "oh", or "why not something else" with sarcastic grins on peoples' faces. Such discrepancies will continue to undermine the efforts of any form of awareness if the grassroots issues are not addressed.

Ignoring agriculture and its studies would be an act of foolishness so as to think we do not need food production anymore. Sometimes, it is not about what you farm (either perishables or livestock); it is how you go about executing it. Making resources available, understanding the weather, utilizing innovations (especially ICTs), manipulating cropping patterns, integration and efficient management just may be the key ingredients. Young minds have the capacity to absorb and the capability to perform this.

However, unless we alter attitudes at home and actions in school, a 'Hamlet' will continue to dwell in every student wanting to pursue agricultural studies and career.