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October - December 2012

The rapid growth and diversification of development activities have resulted in much needed expansion of employment opportunities, but at the same time have triggered rural to urban migration. This trend has inadvertently resulted in shift of farm labour to nonfarm sectors. To sustain food security, it is imperative to encourage farmers to continue with agriculture, wherein the rural youth have a crucial role to play. Currently, there is a challenge of retaining youngsters in agriculture due to various socio-economic factors, including profitability in agricultural pursuits. It has become imminent to reorient agricultural practices to make them i n t e l l e c t u a l l y satisfying and e c o n o m i c a l l y rewarding for the youth. India has the largest youth population in the world that is poised to increase further in the coming decade. Nearly 70% of India's population is below the age of 35 years making India the youngest nation in the world and interestingly 70% of them live in rural areas. According to 2011 Census, the youth population in the country including adolescents is around 550 million. In 2020, the average Indian will be only 29-year-old, whereas in China, and the United States of America the average age is estimated to be 37 years. We may utilize this demographic dividend for taking Indian agriculture to new heights by channelizing the creative energies of the youth through development of skills, knowledge and attitudes.

The preamble of India's 2003 National Youth Policy emphasizes youth empowerment in different spheres of national life. Realizing the potential of youth power, the United Nations declared 2011 as the 'International Year of Youth' in which the issue of making farming attractive to youths was deliberated vigorously. A panel discussion on 'Youth and Agriculture' in the Rio+20 Conference and the recently concluded second Global Conference on 'Agricultural Research for Development' in Uruguay to highlight the need bring forward youth in developing agriculture in a sustainable mode. The special session on 'Youth in Agriculture' in the Farmers' Forum Global Meeting (2012) recommended creation of a 'new rural reality' based on a positive image of farming as a dynamic business by which youth can become entrepreneurs. It was also emphasized that the employment opportunities must be a blend of both on-farm and non-farm activities along the agricultural value chain. Investment in this direction will help boost the rural economy with enhancement in agricultural productivity, profitability and a curb on rural-to-urban migration.

The Indian Council of Agricultural Research has always been endeavoring to empower youth with appropriate technologies. Way back in 1979, ICAR initiated a novel idea of 'Rural Agricultural Work Experience' (RAWE) which was later integrated as a single semester course for undergraduate students in agriculture. Further, in the last ten years, ICAR has supported the establishment of 351 Experiential Learning units and 51 centres under Niche Area of Excellence in over 50 universities. These universities could act as business incubation hubs enabling the students with business acumen.

The Student 'Rural Entrepreneurship and Awareness Development Yojana' (READY) programme envisaged in the XII Five-Year Plan aims at entrepreneurship development among the youth. It combines both RAWE and Experimental Learning courses to make student READY with the grass-root level experience and entrepreneurship skills. The vast network of agricultural universities and colleges can play a leading role in cultivating self-confidence and capabilities in the students required for taking up agriculture as a profession. Farm-graduates can begin with launching of agri-clinics and agri-business centers in villages as rural enterprises. The observance of 'Agricultural Education Day' by the ICAR Institutes during the last year is sure to increase the awareness In the XII Five-Year Plan, it has also been proposed to initiate a programme 'Attracting and Retaining Youth in Agriculture' (ARYA). The initiative aims at analyzing the current policy environment and identifying supporting policies that can check the rate of migration of youth from rural areas. The ARYA will identify such mechanisms and models that would encourage the youth to avail the quantum of opportunities in allied sectors. It is expected that the youth educated in agriculture and allied enterprises will be able to earn a dignified livelihood from farming and other related pursuits. Educated youth in urban areas can also take up urban and peri-urban agriculture in which ample opportunities exist. Several parts of our country like Kerala and Punjab are already urban in character, with town and village forming a continuum. These initiatives in coordination with other programmes of both Central and State Governments would empower the youth with knowledge, skills and enthusiasm to pursue agriculture with new vigour. These concerted efforts would enable making Indian agriculture 'green pastures' for the Indian youth in the years to come.