Attract rural youth to agriculture in Telangana

Attract rural youth to agriculture in Telangana

Attract Rural Youth to Agriculture in Telangana. There are ample evidences that in the last five decades Telangana region of Andhra Pradesh has been marginalised in economic development in general and agricultural development in particular.

There are ample evidences that in the last five decades Telangana region of Andhra Pradesh has been marginalised in economic development in general and agricultural development in particular. For example, though the percentage of net sown area under irrigation during 1955-58 to 1996-99 has increased from 16 per cent to 36 per cent in Telangana, it remained below that of coastal Andhra (60 per cent). The value of output per hectare for the period of 1996-99 was Rs 26,163, Rs 15,171 and Rs 19,466 for coastal Andhra, Telangana and the state average respectively. And the per capita (rural person) value of output is Rs 4,600, Rs 3,338 and Rs 4,225 in coastal Andhra, Telangana and the state average respectively.

Agriculture in Telangana

The treatment for agriculture was so poor that the net cultivated area in the Telangana region has decreased by 22% during the period 1956 and 1998, while it has increased by 4.25% in Coastal Andhra region. Further with 40% of the cultivated area the institutional credit available to the Telangana farmers was far less. They got 18%, 23% and 28% of the total credit provided by the District Cooperative Central Banks (short-term), the A.P. Cooperative Central Bank (long-term) and the Scheduled Commercial Banks. The inadequate institutional credit has forced the Telangana farmers to fall into the debt trap laid by the private money lenders, leading to an unprecedented number of suicides.

In the absence of canal irrigation, the region heavily depended on ground water that resulted in fall in the ground water table and as a consequence the traditional dug wells have dried up. Subsequently farmers have shifted to deep bore wells, which require energised motors, to draw water. This has forced farmers to increasingly depend on electricity in the Telangana districts. All these have forced the farmers to invest huge amounts, from agriculture surpluses, to secure irrigation facilities leading to a major crisis in the agrarian economy of the region.

The foregoing discussion indicates that agriculture has become no longer a profitable enterprise in Telangana and as a result people started quitting agriculture and youth is not at all interested to take up agriculture as profession. The extremist activities also forced people to quit agriculture resulting in decrease of cultivated area particularly in Northern Telangana. Further urbanisation and vagaries of weather particularly frequent drought conditions had minimised the agriculture activity in many of the districts.

All over the world agriculture has an image problem. Retaining youth in agriculture has been a prominent topic recently and has risen up the development agenda, as there is growing concern worldwide that young people have become disenchanted with agriculture. World over there is a decreasing interest among youth in entering agriculture due to persistent perception that agriculture is risky and non remunerative because of minimal financial returns. This is attributed to “farm problem’ meaning economic difficulties faced by farmers as a result of low farm incomes and great instability and variability in the income from farming. The common response of farmers to the problem is to migrate to urban areas or to non-farm occupations which provide higher returns to per unit of labour applied. The nature of the problem has also been changing over time with increasing heterogeneity of the farmer population.

The ‘farm problem’ in India is probably worsened by virtue of its labour surplus nature because about 60 percent of the labour force producing around one sixth of the GDP, the relative productivity of workers in agriculture is less than one-fourth of the non-agricultural occupations. Further, one of the many ironies of the sector is that most of the times the aforesaid ‘farm problem’ arises out of increased productivity in agriculture. It is proved that “The greater the increase in farm productivity, the greater the imbalance between supply and demand of farm products which has to be corrected by an outflow of labour or by lower farm prices. Unless the outflow of labour from farming is fast enough, an increase in farm productivity leads only to lower farm prices and lower farm incomes”. Between 2005-2009, a Planning Commission sponsored study showed that even when economy growth was over 8 per cent per annum, more than 140 lakh people were driven out of agriculture and an additional 53 lakh people lost their jobs in the manufacturing sector.

In other words, while GDP was on an upswing, unemployment too was rapidly growing. Thus the incentives for a farmer to farm go on declining even with a good performance and many a times there is no option but to quit. Labour shortage is the biggest threat to Indian farmers with most of the unemployed rural youth are changing their occupations for better income and to avoid the laborious nature of farm work. National Rural Employment Guarantee scheme is also creating labour shortages in agriculture and pushing up the cost of production. The latest NSSO reports revealed that about 40 percent farmers in the country would like to quit agriculture if they had an alternative livelihood opportunity. Socially in rural areas male youth engaged in agriculture are not preferred by girls for marriage.

Telangana is predominantly rain-fed, with uneven distribution of rainfall. Most rural youth do not foresee a prosperous future for themselves in the agricultural sector primarily because of the lack of profitability of agricultural activities and the lack of infrastructure and social facilities in rural areas. A stagnating agricultural productivity and rural environmental degradation have made agriculture a last option to rural youth. As the environment on which their livelihoods depend becomes more and more degraded, rural youth face diminished prospects of employment. Not only do these youth lack income, they lack a means of gaining respect and a sense of belonging in their communities. Young farmers are not looking for appeasement but for pride and self worth which comes from being able to fend for themselves and not being fed.

This is the reason for Telangana farmers contemplate to suicide. As a result, the region, particularly, southern Telangana witnessed the continuous migration of rural youth to urban areas. Rising disenchantment with the profession pushes them out of agriculture while opportunities in other sectors of the booming economy in urban areas pull them out of agriculture. This situation is very serious and alarming and the migration of rural youth created a vacuum in the villages. It has been observed and expressed by many enlightened persons like poet Goreti Venkanna that villages are being deserted and resemble graveyards draining away the talented youth to stay away from farming. While the lack of youth in agriculture is well documented, plausible strategies for addressing the issue are not.

People, particularly farmers hope that a separate state will help them not just to dream bigger but also to plug the loopholes that they say have been neglected since 60 years and it is time that agriculture should be a priority to new government. Early this year, TRS chief K Chandrasekhar Rao assured that agriculture would be given top priority in the Telangana state. KCR observed that agriculture and allied sectors are neglected a lot by government line departments that promote agriculture and allied activities. The youth are normally excluded in policy discussions relating to access to agriculture and rural market development. Apart from three acres of land to every dalit farmer, he emphasised on power for agriculture, importance to research and extension, training to farmers etc. While these may take some time, most important is his assurance and encouragement to youth to attract them to agriculture.

It is not just attracting the youth but retaining those who are already engaged in subsistence farming. If we manage to do that, to a large extent, the problem is solved to attract them there in the first place. An enabling environment for youth to enter into the agricultural sector can be created only with, a supportive policy environment focused on youth. The barrier like access to land and finance are to be removed which is essential for farming and agricultural entrepreneurship. Youth will be attracted to agriculture only when rural economy will improve and villages are developed as knowledge hubs. This requires establishing small and medium scale agriculture industries in rural areas and training to youth in vocational trades so that they could support themselves during off-season, when there is not much agricultural activity.

Youth are the present and the future of any country state and it is important that youth are both viewed as an investment opportunity and are treated as partners in the development process. The new Telangana requires direct investment in rural youth that focus on improving the quality of life and productivity of rural small holders and landless young men and women on a priority basis. If large scale migration of rural youth from farming to urban areas is not checked, it is likely to affect agricultural activities and growth in the new state. Until the last decade, Telangana was a beacon for Left-wing extremism. If galloping aspirations of the rural youth are not addressed in the new state, as some people predicted, their frustration will revive left wing extremism again and may not only have far reaching implications for the agriculture but can be a recipe for collapse of law and order in the state.

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