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Why are our youth not interested in agriculture?

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Editor: Thank you for being a medium through which I can express my most humble opinion.

A few weeks ago, I listened to the Minister of Agriculture, Mr. Montgomery Daniel articulating his ministry’s thrust towards the increase in agricultural production in St. Vincent and the Grenadines. The implementation of a land bank programme apparently is the chosen resuscitative method.{{more}}

This chosen resuscitative measure makes us ask; why is there a lack of interest among the youths as regards to agriculture.

There is a myriad of reasons for this phenomenon but I will highlight a few. I have originated from an area where agricultural activities provide the prime sustenance for its habitation and have heard parents say to their children, “If you fail to do well in school, I will give you a hoe”. I have also heard a few teachers say to their students, “If you don’t do your schoolwork, I will advise your parents to give you a long pencil to write in the soil”. Referring to the hoe for ploughing the land. This myth which was then propagated, has shown up agriculture as a degrading activity, causing younger persons to see agriculture as dirty and derogatory and of little delight and interest.

Another factor which has caused youths to shun agriculture, is the lack of a reliable market for the agricultural produce which their parents and close friends may have cultivated. There are cases where farmers may have been advised to plant potatoes: they may have done so, but when it is time for harvesting they become flustered and discouraged because the local market cannot consume their produce and there may not be a vent through a regional market. The produce is domestically consumed and the balance shared with friends and relatives. This makes the entire ordeal an economic disaster for the farmer: especially if he/she would have expected a strong economic return.

Marijuana production has to an extent impacted negatively on the production of food crops. There is a: “Get rich quick syndrome” pervading through our society, which is so sweltering that, it has captivated a great percentage of our young people. Such persons journey to the interior to plant this narcotic which when harvested and sold, seem to fetch a more attractive price than the food crops.

The youths who are involved in food production, have had great difficulty in getting employees to assist in the de-weeding and ploughing of lands. Those who can gain employment by ploughing either spurn such activity or choose to be employed by the marijuana farmers who pay them much more than the food crop farmers can pay. The food crop farmers suffer as a result.

I am hereby offering a few suggestions:

1) To de-stigmatize agriculture:

a) More emphasis should be placed on the teaching of agricultural science in the Primary Schools: probably as a part of the General Science syllabus.

b) The Ministry of Education should include a few agricultural science questions in the Common Entrance General Paper so as to generate interest and importance of the subject.

c) Organize and play up World Food Day activities so as to drive home to students the importance of local food production and national food sustainability.

d) The Ministry of Agriculture: if it has a communication unit; should have more organized and frequent radio and television programs focusing on the importance of agriculture. Make use of agricultural extension officers and prominent farmers in producing these programs.

2) To improve the Market:

a) Encourage farmers to strive consistently to improve the quality of production and marketing presentation. Then put a control on the importation of agricultural produce that can be grown locally (e.g.) carrots and English potatoes and poultry so as to create a bigger local market for farmers.

b) Encourage people to eat more locally produced foods. Organize agricultural trade links with other Caribbean countries so that they become a marketing vent for some of our agricultural produce and vice versa.

c) Our national agricultural exhibition should be held at least every four years and we should endeavour to have regional media coverage so as to showcase our agricultural produce.

If farming becomes more lucrative, it will certainly attract younger hands and some hands which are idle. The farming population index will swell and there would be more persons itching to utilize more agricultural land for food production. Then the stage would be set for the establishment of the land bank.

Agriculture is the backbone of our economy, let us strengthen it.

David Felix

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