Akila Wijerathna dispels umpteen misconceptions associated with agriculture

The world is dynamic and changing rapidly. Adapting to this is a fundamental rule of organic farming whereby the system must adapt to cultures and seasons. However, climate change plays a role in this too, along with new perspectives on health and wellbeing, the economy and globalisation.

Young people from around the world are assembling, discussing, exchanging ideas and trying to achieve a common goal, to plot a path to adapt to changes in the organic farming system. Today, they’re developing organic farms and farmers’ markets, discovering renewable energies and building sustainable communities.

These young farmers, consumers and entrepreneurs are our future. We need to support and invest in their successes as well as failures.

Persistent unemployment has become synonymous with the youth experience across developing countries. Youth unemployment rates are almost four times the regional average of developing countries for those between 15 and 35, and more than 50 percent have never been employed.

The agriculture sector could be a key source of job creation for young people but they’re turning their backs on it despite high unemployment.

Agriculture appears to carry stronger negative stigmas than other careers. For instance, there is a perception that those in the sector are poor and older. Also, it’s perceived by many as a risky career path that involves hard work for little financial reward.

Misconceptions have restricted the number of young people opting for a career in agriculture. The youth are often discouraged by perceptions of exhausting work and underprivileged weather-beaten farmers. Therefore, attracting youth to agriculture is no small feat.

However, new technologies, methods and thinking are beginning to change their minds.

A major misconception among young people is that agriculture is still an ‘old-fashioned sector.’ Providing access to technology and information, and better communication along with vastly improved equipment, are enabling young farmers and agro experts around the world to change what we think – and improve how things are done.

Another misconception is that farming comes with high barriers to entry, particularly in the context of the capital needed to set up and operate large tracts of land for farming. But what’s exciting is that as technology evolves, it lowers these barriers.

For example, vertical farming is enabling young agro entrepreneurs to build sustainable businesses in warehouses in the middle of towns. Technology has provided drones for crop assessments, smartphones to set up irrigation systems, and computers for precision row crop soil preparation, planting and harvesting.

We’re in the fascinating position of needing to nurture emerging small-scale farmers, and teach them how to use traditional methods more effectively and sustainably.

Meanwhile, we must also develop a young and vibrant group of agro entrepreneurs who look further into the future, where  more advanced skills and understanding of technology will offer them a wealth of exciting – as well as dynamic careers in this sector.

The organic movement should start uniting and stimulating young people around the world, by creating a network where they can exchange information and knowledge of organic agriculture in its full diversity.

Following this, the movement must be strengthened, generating activities and ideas from a younger perspective. Ideas must be generated for projects involving schools, communities, culture, art centres and so on. And they must promote and spread the organic lifestyle from the lowest ranks of society.

Young people usually communicate their ideas and messages through different means such as social media, and cultural and educational events. Participation in events like alternative conferences, music festivals, eco-meetings, and cultural and regional celebrations is a great way to promote organic farming opportunities.

Using these cultural platforms, the state and private sectors can reach the public who may not be informed about organic farming or high-tech agriculture, and present opportunities to participate and learn. By integrating agriculture into cultural events, the organic movement can display all aspects of this diverse system.

It’s well-known that consumers have the last say but this is a powerful tool we forget to use. As consumers, we often forget that with every choice we make, the path this world takes is plotted and it changes every day. Therefore, participating in this cultural movement is important.

We need to inform young farmers and the public about why an organic lifestyle is the best choice.

However, the future of organic farming and attracting young people to agriculture depends on many factors. Therefore, we must begin educating and working with all citizens – from kindergartens, schools, universities and the public – to bring about an organic lifestyle.