ISSN (Print) - 0012-9976 | ISSN (Online) - 2349-8846

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Agricultural Revival and Reaping the Youth Dividend

In recent years, “youth” has emerged as a distinct category of population to be governed in India. Policy efforts to realise the “demographic dividend” amidst an agrarian crisis have however not met with success as suggested by reports of jobless growth on the one hand and poor quality of employment generated outside agriculture on the other. What are the prospects of improving youth livelihoods within agriculture? Can the youth revive the prospects of agriculture? Improving incomes within agriculture while also paying sufficient attention to caste and gender relations that shape labour hierarchies, access to land, youth preferences and mobility aspirations is critical to imagining a future that sustains agriculture and youth livelihoods.

Globally, there is a growing concern about a generational crisis in farming: the average age of a farmer is rising, and young people are apparently disinterested in farming and are leaving the countryside. Questions about the future of farming, and whether there will be future generations of farmers, have emerged as key policy issues in several countries (IFAD 2010; Jöhr 2012; Qualman et al forthcoming; White 2012). This paper argues that these are timely questions in the Indian context as well, for a number of reasons. About 54% of India’s population is under 25 years of age and by 2019, the median age of Indians will be 29 years. As per Census 2011, close to 34% of India’s rural population belongs to the age group 15–34 years. In 2012, an estimated 56.6% of rural youth in the age group 15–29 years continued to rely on agriculture, forestry, or fishing as a source of livelihood (GoI 2013a). While the presence of a sizeable young population is believed to offer a demographic dividend (GoI 2013b), policy efforts to realise the dividend have not met with success. This is evident from reports of jobless growth and poor quality of employment generated outside agriculture. Poor prospects for livelihoods within agriculture, its declining importance as a sector in the national income, and aspirations of rural youth and their parents to find avenues in non-farm sectors suggest that, like elsewhere, agriculture today is an unlikely option for the young in India.

While youth as a distinct social and demographic category has come to occupy a significant place in the recent policy imagination in India,1 and the problem of low productivity in agriculture continues to occupy policymakers, the two are rarely brought together in research and policy.2 We argue that these issues need to be addressed together to render visible to policymakers, the dilemmas of youth who are dependent on low-return agriculture, their aspirations for social and economic mobility, the prospects for agriculture, and the means to tackle rural poverty.

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Updated On : 4th Jul, 2018

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