From FCC Express
By Owen Roberts
Agriculture week is underway in Ontario – and along with it begins a new four-year, four-country research project, based out of the University of Guelph, to help ensure the next generation of farmers succeed across the globe.
Sociologist Sharada Srinivasan received $286,000 from the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council in late September to assemble a global team to study young farmers’ pathways to agriculture in Canada, India, Indonesia and China.
She’s particularly interested in learning about impediments that make farming difficult for young producers, success stories in overcoming them, and in developing and recommending policies that will help young famers everywhere.
Canada, she says, is a model in many ways for other countries. It’s already taken steps to respond to what Srinivasan calls farming’s “generational crisis” – that is, the gap between the aging farm population and young farmers wanting to get started in the discipline.
“The government has recognized the problem, programs such as FarmStart are underway and there is a significant level of awareness in the farm community that something needs to be done to help address this situation,” Srinivasan says.
Srinivasan, who at Guelph holds the Canada Research Chair in Gender, Justice and Development, knows situations for entry–level farmers differ across the globe.
For example, with farm labour in such short supply, Canadian farmers have adopted more and more mechanization, especially as they’ve grown bigger. But ironically, that may mean less work is available for sons or daughters they’re planning to bring into their operations.
It’s the opposite in India, where labour is in relative abundance. But farm incomes are very low, as is the status of farmers. Many young men shun it in favour of trying to get urban jobs.
In both countries, access to land and credit is imperative for young farmers starting out, particularly if they aren’t already part of a family farm. In some cases, the amount they’ll need to borrow is staggering. And in other cases, low incomes mean credit is hard to find.
Such factors do not have a direct connection to agronomic matters that would help farmers succeed, such as soil fertility and adequate precipitation. But, says Srinivasan, if they are limiting young people from entering farming, they are highly influencing the future of agriculture.
“Agriculture has to respond,” Srinivasan says. “If visions of a sustainable agricultural future is to be realized, and if young people are going to have a place in that future, the problems they face establishing themselves as farmers must be given serious attention in research and policy debate.”