Rebranding agriculture to charm the youth

By Afifah Suhaimi,

Encouraging young people to venture into agriculture is important, as it presents a huge opportunity to reduce youth unemployment – 58.2 percent of the total in 2019 – improve their livelihoods and most importantly, the catalyst to reduce the country’s dependency on foreign labour and boost our food security as well as export which will then contribute significantly to our GDP growth.

Currently, this sector holds a noteworthy share of 7.1 percent of GDP and the only industry that experienced expansion in the second quarter of this year (2Q20) – 1.0 percent.

However, the youth of today shows a lacklustre response to the agriculture industry because of several reasons – this industry is less remunerative, like a last resort for under-achievers or as cliché as it sounds, not highly regarded by the society.

Despite efforts by the government and other organisations to make the agriculture sector appealing to the youth and increase their involvement, there is still a pattern among them who decided not to go into this sector and instead, migrate to the urban areas to look for more decent and well-paid jobs.

However, there is no denying that there are some who might want to venture into this field but they do not know how to start or with whom to seek guidance and there is lack of access to the required infrastructure.

This situation is also complicated as young people participating in agricultural programmes are drawn from different skill sets and social backgrounds, without regard to their past experiences in agriculture which finally deter them from working in this industry.

Consequently, the potentials and prospects of agricultural growth are being seen as the responsibilities of the ageing rural population, which is practically impossible for this ageing generation to dominate this sector for a long time and deliver the expected productivity.

This, perhaps, could be the reason for the remaining job vacancies in the agricultural sector (5.9 percent) – which is the highest among other sectors reported in 2Q20.

Plus, the rate of employed persons in the skilled agricultural, forestry, livestock, and fishery workers was only at 6.2 percent in 2Q20, the lowest compared with other groups like services and sales workers (23.7 percent), elementary occupations (12.3 percent) and professionals (12.9 percent).

Also, with the pandemic coming in, one thing it has taught us is that each nation needs to have sufficient food produced and grown locally since a ban on exports of food products imposed by several nations has caused major upheavals in global markets and supply chains.

Currently, as stated in DOSM’s recent press release, Malaysia has produced more than enough watermelon, papaya, tomato, brinjal, sugarcane and spinach – with self-sufficiency ratios of more than 100 percent.

However, a few crops have inadequate supplies for domestic needs, namely ginger (16.2 percent), chilli (30.8 percent), mango (32.1 percent) and round cabbage (36.2 percent).

As a result, these crops recorded the highest import dependency ratio, in which ginger accounted for 84.3 percent, followed by chili (73.6 percent), mango (73.5 percent) and 65.4 percent for round cabbage.

In terms of livestock, the supply of mutton and beef was prominently insufficient to meet the local demands compared to others, with self-sufficiency ratios of 12.1 percent and 23.7 percent, respectively. Consequently, these two livestock recorded the highest import dependency ratio, 87.9 percent and 76.6 percent individually.

Thus, looking at the two problems stated above (youth’s perception of agriculture job and insufficient food supply for domestic needs), the government must come out with new strategic moves and policies to encourage youth involvement in this industry and at the same time, to ensure our food self-sufficiency.

To achieve this, the government should empower the younger generation to venture into this sector by improving the agriculture’s image or make it ‘sexier’ and more lucrative.

For instance, it can be done through modernisation – so that agriculture is not seen as an outdated, unprofitable, or dirty work anymore.

Presently, the Ministry of Agriculture Development and Food Industry opened the Young Agropreneur programme application, aiming to help and encourage youth involvement in the agricultural sector, which covers all areas in the value chain such as crops, livestock, fisheries, and agro-based industries.

This year, RM20 million was allocated to develop 1,200 young agropreneurs. Among the requirements are – applicants must be Malaysian, aged between 18 and 40, and priority will be given to those with access to land facilities and existing premises.

Looking back at these requirements, those with no access to land facilities and premises may have small chances to receive the benefits of this programme.

This is why, first things first, the government should provide the youth with grants that can help them to secure or buy land for agricultural purposes, instead of just renting the land via Temporary Occupation of Land (TOL) which requires yearly renewal of land licences.

Imagine what will happen to their businesses if one day, let’s say after five years, they may have to vacate their farms if the authorities refuse to renew their TOL licences – and which, if they disobey, could be considered a squatter, and they can be sued for trespassing. What a waste, right?

Next, it is crucial to eliminate barriers to start-up capital as this will facilitate the youngsters to start their agribusinesses.

For instance, connecting them to consumers, suppliers of agricultural products, extension programmes and the media are vital to support and assist them in participating in this industry.

Lastly, training programmes linking them to smart farming practices and profitable agribusinesses should be given priority. This training should equip them with new agricultural skills that utilise modern technologies such as GPS, soil scanning, data management, and IoT technology to boost the quantity and quality of agricultural products.

But all is not lost when we analyse the estimated monthly GDP for June – introduced by DOSM for the first time – showing agriculture is one of the two sectors that demonstrate positive growth. This would surely mean the youths are listening!

 Afifah Suhaimi is Research Assistant at EMIR Research, an independent think tank focused on strategic policy recommendations based on rigorous research.

 

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