The role of ICTs in increasing the attractiveness of agriculture for young people
Unattractiveness of agriculture
When choosing their field of study today, most youngsters tend to choose medical science, computer, management, engineering, finance and accounting, law etc. It is very rare to find students who choose agriculture for a career and there are many reasons behind it. First of all, when we think of agriculture, it is related to hard work, considered to be of low-status and not fashionable. Moreover, most students who study agriculture are in this field either because they had no other choice or they did not obtain results which were required to study the subject that they wanted. As a result, many cases exist where agriculture students have changed their field of studies as soon as they got another opportunity.
Importance of young people to be interested in agriculture
The question which arises is that if agriculture is so unattractive, why should youngsters be interested in it? Presently, agriculture in all countries are facing several challenges like aging farmer population, climate change resulting in high incidence of pest and diseases, high cost of production and most importantly, most countries in the world are not food secured as they are relying heavily on imports. The Millennium development Goal 1 deals with the eradication of extreme poverty and hunger. In order to do that, agriculture plays an important role because according to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO), the number of hungry people must be halved by 2015 by improving agricultural productivity and promoting agriculture by investing in the empowerment of smallholder farmers. Considering all these points it is clear how important agriculture is for our survival, whether we are from a developing country or a developed one.
ICTs in agriculture
UNESCO defines ICTs as the "new or advanced technologies that enhance the dissemination or creation of information and communication". Examples of ICTs in agriculture are classified into two categories, which are traditional ICTs and new ICTs.
Traditional ICTs involve the use of videos, radios, television and newspapers, whereas new ICTs are all about the use of mobile phones, computers, internet, Global Positioning Systems (GPS), Geographical Information System (GIS).
The link between agriculture, youth and ICT
Certainly, it is possible to have a link between agriculture, youth and ICTs. This is because youth are people who have lots of ideas and like innovation, which is why they are very attracted to ICTs. ICTs are being used in agriculture in many countries today and the fact that we are using ICT in agriculture makes this field more fashionable and attractive. When we are talking about the use of ICTs in increasing the attractiveness of agriculture for young people, there are 2 main functions that it may have. Firstly, ICTs can be used to sensitize youth on the importance of agriculture and change their perception about it and secondly, ICTs can be promoted through empowerment/sensitizing programs by the government or other support organizations.
Use of ICTs to sensitize youth on their use in agriculture
Today, most young people are connected to the internet and to get through them, there is no easier way than to use ICT itself. The negative perception that young people have on agriculture can be changed by making videos, publishing articles on success stories of young entrepreneurs using ICTs in agriculture for them to realize that choosing agriculture for a career is not that bad after all, since they can do a "cool" job, be independent and successful at the same time. In addition, this can be done at a national, regional or international level by organizing radio/TV shows or competition on the use of ICTs in agriculture, so as to capture more young people as those who are not connected to the internet also will be targeted.
Promoting ICTs through empowerment programs by government or support organizations.
Despite the fact that many farmers/entrepreneurs are using ICTs in different countries over the world, it is not always clear to youth how they could apply ICT in agriculture to make farming an easier and more interesting job. In order to do this, governments of each country or other support organizations must consider the empowerment of youth on the use of ICT in agriculture. Some applications of ICTs, which may trigger the interest of young people in agriculture, include:
- Use of internet and Web 2.0 tools
This can be done by training young people in each country on the use of internet and web 2.0 tools. Social media can be beneficial in the sense that it is very easy to obtain, manage and share information with other stakeholders in agriculture, which can help in improving productivity and increase farm income. However, only training of young people on web 2.0 applications is not enough. Youth who have been trained must be tutored on how to apply this knowledge in agriculture.
For example, one of the main problems in agriculture is the marketing of the products and the access to market information. If youth would be tutored how they can solve these problems by applying their knowledge on ICT in their farm activities, they will be keener to adopt it as they are already interested in technologies and new ways of doing things.
- Use of mobile applications to make farming easier
Nowadays, most young people in all countries over the world know how to use a mobile phone without training. If they are empowered about the potential of using mobile phone in agriculture, they may be more interested in practicing it. For example, in terms of managing farm data, marketing of their products, be in touch with their clients etc.
- Better management of information and farm data
When practicing agriculture, management of information and farm data is very important as the failure in doing so can have huge impact on the farm productivity and income. For example, record on the application of fertilizer/pesticides, planting and harvesting dates, crops grown in a particular area in the field, incidence of pest and diseases etc. The adoption of farming software (a Decision Support System for example) can be attractive for young people who are interested to become entrepreneurs.
- Use of GPS for farming on large scale
Since the conventional agriculture is not fashionable, ICTs can attract young people to become entrepreneurs and practice precision agriculture using ICTs. This involves huge investment, but instead of young people venturing and investing in other field, it is better that they choose agriculture in order to meet the Millennium and Development Goals 1.
The above are only some of the examples about how ICTs can be used in agriculture and how youth can be attracted to agriculture through them. To conclude, we can say that the overall role of ICTs in making agriculture more attractive to young people is to make the job more fashionable, easier to manage farm activities and have a good image in the society.
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Nawsheen Hosenally is currently a student in BSc (Hons) of Agriculture with specialization in Agricultural Extension, at the University of Mauritius. She gained some experience in Agricultural Research and Extension Unit and at the Ministry of Agro Industry and Food security