Luring Youth To Farms

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The government can do it by motivating educated workforce

The younger generations of the farmers’ families in Goa are leaving agriculture. It has been a continuous trend in the past decades. In this context, the dream of Chief Minister Pramod Sawant to make Goa self-sufficient in food does not seem realizable. Of course, the trend of members of younger generations leaving agriculture is not specific to Goa. It is an all-India trend. In 2017 Pratham, a non-government organization interviewed 30,000 rural youth through a questionnaire to know, apart from other things, their career preferences. The survey found that only about 300 of them (1.2%) wanted to be farmers.  Among them, 18 per cent wanted to join the army and 12 per cent to be engineers.

The reasons for this are many. One, farming has come to acquire a low ranking among professions. Those engaged in agriculture are seen as people from backwoods. The urban culture has taken western trappings in dress, language, behavior, habits and lifestyle which are in sharp contrast to the traditional culture prevalent in the villages. The younger persons in the farming families compare themselves with the younger persons in urban families and see a stark difference and aspire to be like them. For the historical reasons of close exposure to western culture, Goans adopted the trappings of urban culture faster than most of the Indians. The rate of urbanization has been very high in Goa. It has the highest percentage of urban population among small states.

At the time of Liberation, only 15% Goans lived in urban areas. In 2011, over 62% of its population was living in urban areas. The percentage of Goan population living in rural areas has plunged from 85% to 38% between 1961 and 2011. The deep decline in rural population in itself suggests a flight of people from farming. And the people leaving villages are not the old people. They are younger people who are educated or semi-educated who have migrated to urban areas. Farming is an occupation that demands a great amount of manual labour. Such labour is not possible for the parents of the migrants when they cross the age of 50 or 60. As a consequence, more and more farms are being left uncultivated. How can Goa be self-sufficient in food with decreasing number of people in villages?

The second reason why Chief Minister Pramod Sawant’s self-sufficiency in food idea looks like a very distant dream is fragmentation of farmlands. Most of the landholdings in Goa had even originally been small and marginal. With the break-up of the joint family institution, successive generations divide the existing holdings between themselves, leading to further reduction in the size of the farmlands. The more the fragmentation, the more uneconomical the holdings become. As a result, the owners give up farming.     

The third reason is the poor and uncertain income from even the small parcels of land. An unseasonal rain can wipe out several weeks of preparation for a crop. Even if there is no damage, the overall income is small. Most of those who are engaged in farming have other members in the family that earn from other jobs in order to manage the expenses of the household. This happens in spite of the fact that a number of farmers grow vegetables and fruits that are in demand from the average Goan consumer for which produce they get cash on a daily basis. However, the size of income still remains very small. How will the state government motivate these farmers to make Goa self-sufficient in food? The government has to conceive of and implement schemes that would double or treble the income these farmers are getting from their tiny farms on their own in order to motivate them to make Goa self-sufficient. Does the Sawant government have a vision ready for that?

Sawant should perhaps scale down his dream. If he can bring about two changes, farming in Goa might   look a happier picture. One, he has to find ways to bring educated members of the farmers’ families back to farms. Two, he has to get them to form associations to aggregate their acreage, production and marketing to get a good income from their farms.