â€œFor your country
If you plan for a year – sow paddy
If you plan for a decade – plant trees
If you plan for the future – nurture youth”
Taken from 1992 Youth Policy Document for India
As we noted in our last column, agriculture has been defined as â€œthe art, science and industry of managing the growth of plants and animals for human useâ€ and agricultural science as â€œa broad multidisciplinary field that encompasses the parts of exact, natural, economic and social sciences that are used in the practice and understanding of agricultureâ€.
Key to these definitions is the multidisciplinary nature of agriculture which
remains a primary industry offering several options and career choices related to agriculture, food and natural resources. Agriculture is necessary, as not only does it provide food but it supplies a number of primary products to several industries thereby creating employment and business opportunities in areas not perceived as agriculture. These points are borne out in the vision statement of agricultural education provided by the Reinventing Agricultural Education (RAE) for the year 2020 which is â€œAgricultural education envisions a world where all people value and understand the vital role of agriculture, food, fibre and natural resources industries in advancing personal and global well-beingâ€ and the mission statement â€œAgricultural education prepares students for successful careers and a lifetime of informed choices in global agriculture, food, fibre and natural resourcesâ€.
The question is, therefore, how do we attract youth to agriculture?
A start can be made at annual career showcases that are held at most secondary schools. At present the traditional careers and the fashionable ones like environmental science, computer science and hospitality studies are highlighted. Agriculture features nowhere in the scheme of things although there are schools of agriculture offering undergraduate and post graduate programmes in several disciplines.
This yearâ€™s Agrofest sought to encourage the youthâ€™s involvement in agriculture. The fact that a number of teenagers and younger children won prizes in both the crop and livestock areas gives some hope that the objective is being achieved. A number of schools also won prizes in the Agrofest School Garden Competition.
The Governor Generalâ€™s Agricultural Summer Camp is another innovation aimed at getting the young interested from an early age. Even if most of the participants do not make agriculture their career, they would at least have been exposed to the science and be able to appreciate its importance to the nation. The camp is now in its fourth year and it is hoped that sponsorship will continue to be available. At least three children from these camps have their own crops and livestock and have won prizes at Agrofest.
A structured agriculture programme should be introduced into more Primary schools where it is not seen as an arduous task but where the students can enjoy and look forward to â€œplaying in the dirtâ€. Care should be taken to ensure that the appropriate clothing is worn for the activity and that it does not take place at the hottest time of the day, since this would be a disincentive.
In recent years the Super Centre supermarket group has sponsored school garden competitions with very attractive prizes and has also purchased the vegetables produced by the schools. Agro Chemicals Inc., an input supply company, has recently â€œadoptedâ€ a number of schools and supplied seedlings and other inputs for the school gardens.
The 4 H movement is another effective vehicle for encouraging the youth into agriculture. After a somewhat dormant period, the local movement seems to be vibrant once again. There are 14 active 4-H Clubs in Barbados at present and the Foundation is hoping to have 15 additional ones by the beginning of the new school year.
In recent months a â€œYouth in Agriculture Projectâ€ has been established which will no doubt play an important part in enhancing the image of agriculture in the eyes of young people.
For a number of years the University of the West Indies Chair in Horticulture has hosted a 4 week horticultural science course for 15 undergraduate students during the summer vacation. This consists not only of lectures, but also practicals and field visits. This could be made even more effective by extending it to include persons outside the university
In all these activities, it is important to stress the multidisciplinary nature of the agricultural field and the fact that it is a business which can be lucrative and which has many linkages with many other important industries.