The average age of farmers is rising. Nonprofits are at work on ways to show youths in developing nations how farming can be entrepreneurial, profitable, and desirable.
Even on the farm, it pays to be young.
But every year, young people are "escaping" their hometown rural communities to seek the "greener pastures" of city life. Meanwhile, global buyers of commodities such as coffee and cocoa beans worry about the aging farming workforce.
In some areas, such as the Ashanti, western, southern, and eastern regions of Ghana, the average age of farmers now exceeds 50 years. Research has shown that in this day and age, it pays to be young: Sticking to outdated methods, older farmers produce significantly lower yields per acre than younger farmers, who are more likely to use modern farming techniques and introduce innovative production methods.
So the question is: How do we make farming appealing to this generation and save a fading agricultural system? Convince youth that the "greener pasture" is back on the farm.
Historically, farming has been considered a peasant occupation. It was about subsistence, not profit. However, as Ronald Weening points out in the Financial Times, people ultimately are driven by "pride, being respected, and feeling they’re leading a satisfying and worthy life." Weening is the vice president of marketing and sustainability for the coffee business of Mondelez International, the global snacks group formerly known as Kraft Foods.
“Through education and training we can, in many cases, double or triple their yields,” he explained.
Multiple efforts are now afoot to promote ease, profitability, and overall incentives for young people to access the agricultural sector and remain in rural areas.
In November, Mondelez International announced an investment of $400 million over the next decade to improve livelihoods for more than 200,000 cocoa farmers and about 1 million people in farming communities, focusing on the younger generation and helping turn farming villages into desirable places to live.
In addition to pouring money into this sector, Mondelez is also modernizing the field by encouraging young farmers to move beyond being laborers to becoming agricultural entrepreneurs. Weening believes that everything from effective pruning to water management to additional cash-yielding activities, such as bee-keeping, will make the agricultural sector much more attractive.
"It's more interesting when you’re not just a picker but an agronomist,” says Weening.
In a similar vein, MasterCard is investing $11.5 million in a four-year program Strengthening Rural Youth Development through Enterprise (STRYDE) run by TechnoServe, an organization that helps entrepreneurs in the developing world establish businesses.
The STRYDE program aims to provide 15,000 young people living in rural areas across Kenya, Rwanda, and Uganda with training to develop life, entrepreneurship, and career skills; practical business exposure; and mentorship and counseling from a youth trainer to help them take up employment and income-generating opportunities.
TechnoServe's president Bruce McNamer believes STRYDE can make life in a rural areas more attractive by extending beyond farming to enterprise creation.
Only time will tell if this new-era farming will indeed be attractive to young people seeking to make a future for themselves. These types of financial investments and support are necessary to make the grass and the wallets greener back on the farm.