What Is Holding Young People Back From Getting Into Farming?

Alfred Gilbert
Mon, 8 May 2017
Email Author

A growing global demand for food is putting more pressure than ever on the productivity of the agricultural sector. Figures from the UN state that food production will need to double by 2050 for our global population to be fed. A key part of ensuring development will be getting more young people into agricultural work and business. But what will bring them into the sector?

Globally, there are around 75 million young people unemployed between the ages of 15-24, representing 40% of global unemployment (1). For those that are employed, the young account for approximately 24% of the working poor, with the most extreme figures found in Africa, where over 70% of youth workers subsist on less than $2 per day (2).

Current demographic reports state that there are 1.2 billion people globally within the 15-24 age bracket (2015), which is expected to rise 7% by 2030 to nearly 1.3 billion (3). Even in countries where youth unemployment rates are relatively low, this growth will put huge pressure on labour markets as they attempt to accommodate more workers year on year.  

Agricultural Sector:

For the agricultural sector, this rise in young workers is a huge opportunity for maintaining and increasing productive capacities. However, a recent study carried out by RBS found that the number of young people entering the agricultural sector is falling (4), a trend that has now been seen for a number of years. The key question is why?

For many commentators, a key driver behind this lack of entry into agriculture, is the reputation attached to the sector. Young people across the globe see agriculture as a sector that represents hard, physical labour, and one that lacks opportunity for economic benefits and career progression (5). This is in part driven by the fact that the majority of young people (globally) working within the agricultural sector are household and informal sector employees. With this there is typically low wages, unsecure work arrangements, and possibly exploitative conditions. It is clear from this discourse why young workers may be hesitant to enter into the field.

However, contemporary farming has huge potential for young people, driven through three core characteristics:


Agriculture is a growing sector in need of skilled workers

As mentioned at the top of this article, in line with population growth, future food demands will be much higher than present levels. To meet this, the agricultural sector needs to not only become more efficient in its practices, it also needs to grow.

To support this growth, agriculture needs young, enlightened perspectives on farming and its practices. Young people can transform value chains throughout agriculture, by applying new technologies and climate smart approaches to their work. In a recent interview with the Guardian, one young farmer talked of her generation’s global awareness, and ability to bring ideas from all over the world into the farming landscape (6).

There is therefore a growing understanding of the need for educated young people within agriculture, capable of understanding climate related issues, and how to implement new farming methods which ensure efficiency, profitability and sustainability. There is therefore a huge opportunity for the younger generation to be at the forefront of agriculture’s modernization.

Farming Secretary, Andrea Leadsom, recently stated at a conference that “agri-tech is where the future of food and farming lies – and I’ve seen for myself how smarty innovation can cut costs for farmers and help the environment” (7).

Highly skilled, tech savvy young entrants are finding innovative solutions for bettering working practices throughout the entire agricultural value chain. As Ian Burrow, head of Agriculture at Natwest and the Royal Bank of Scotland quoted, “Millennial farmers are a high tech, highly skilled, highly motivated group”.

Young agricultural workers in contemporary farming have the opportunity to gain a wide range of experiences and knowledge in relation to new farming practices and tech, with a much lower onus now required on manual labour. There are also greater opportunities for profits within the sector, as technological innovations keep improving the efficiency and productivity of farms.


Agriculture is a diversifying sector

Arguably the crucial point that this article highlights, modern agricultural is a diverse sector. From leisure and tourism to renewables, camping to event hosting, diversification of contemporary farms and farm land is allowing farmers to generate additional income on-top of basic production payments.

In line with this, what it means to have a career in agriculture, is a much more open-ended question than it used to be. Working within farming may involve flying high-resolution drones to assess and manage crop yields. It could be developing novel, sustainable packaging that can help farms reduce their economic footprints. It may even be designing business models for farms that can help them diversify their productivity.

The point is, opportunities within agriculture have never been greater and more varied than they are at present around the globe. Not only is diversification good for the sector in terms of interest, but from an economic standpoint, diversified agriculture can help farms create a stable income throughout the year, independent of produce development and harvest success.  

For the agricultural sector, this rise in young workers is a huge opportunity for maintaining and increasing productive capacities

Moving Forward

When looking back at our initial question of what is stopping young people from getting into farming, it would appear that the issue is not with contemporary agriculture itself. The sector is a fast-diversifying and innovative, engaging with specialisms and individuals from a variety of backgrounds. With technological advancements and improved efficiency with agricultural practices, farming and agri-business are becoming more economically beneficial to stakeholders, with the diversifying of the sector allowing for varied career progression.

The issue may therefore possibly lie in our national and international societal understandings of what it means to work in agriculture. Could it be that the historic discourses mentioned at the start of this article still dominate the young’s perception of the sector? Or are the young just not interested in farming? Is the work not worth the reward? Is there a financial barrier to getting into farming? Are greater support networks needed?

Now in its second year of five, Sustainable Intensification 2017 will explore the key themes and issues affecting Brazilian Agriculture, with particular focus on the labour force, IOT, traceability and new technologies.

In collaboration with stakeholders such as Embrapa, MAPA, CEBDS and the OCB, the summit will examine and present relevant solutions to a number of these challenges, helping create change for both Brazil and the entire global population.

To find out more about the event, please click on the link below, or you can email us at info@challenge.org.

Click to explore Sustainable Intensification 2017