Agriculture has been the most significant sector in Bangladesh economy for a long time. In 2019, this sector generated 38.58 percent employment in the country, where the world average in the same year based on 182 countries was 24.26 percent.
Though agricultural production has increased in the last few years, it is going to be affected dangerously due to environmental disasters and climate change. Apart from the environmental threats, rapid urbanisation may play a big role in decreasing labour supply to agricultural food production.
The United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs (UN DESA) estimates that 68 percent of the world population will live in urban areas by 2050. That means by 2050, 7 out of every 10 people will live in a city. The decrease in population in rural regions will surely reduce the youths' participation in agricultural activities.
Agricultural production, fighting against climate change and youth employment has been a leading issue in the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development Goals. In recent years, we are observing that the interest of young people in agriculture has been declining at an alarming rate. A great disaster is waiting for us if this trend continues for a long time. In the last five years, we witnessed a huge transformation in the total percentage of employment in the service sector moving from the agriculture sector.
In 2015, employment in the agriculture sector was much higher than the service sector. But five years later a huge chunk of agriculture sector employment moved to the service sector. We can be benefited from this transformation in the short term. But we may suffer for this movement in future.
Almost one-third of the total population of Bangladesh is youth. But, it is a matter of sorrow that we cannot utilise this population in any productive way. As a result, unemployment among youth is increasing at an alarming rate.
In the last ten years, total employment from agriculture sector is decreasing, while the unemployment rate of youth is increasing. Both the changes are indicative of the fact that we can mitigate these problems together. If we are able to move this youth to the agriculture sector, we will be able to reduce the unemployment rate. It will also ensure a high level of production.
There are one private and six public universities in Bangladesh which are specialised in agricultural science. But after completing graduation, most of these graduates tend to establish their career in the service sector rather than the agricultural sector. At this point, the curriculum must be more practical so that more students can think about building a career in agriculture.
On the other hand, issues like agriculture, the impact of climate change should be added as a subject in the school curriculum in Bangladesh, not only to pass in the examination but also for students to be conscious about the scarcity of natural resources and negative impact of climate change on our food production.
About 46 percent of the total unemployed youth are university graduates. The Center for Policy Dialogue (CPD) noted that the unemployment rate in the educated labour force is increasing. These young graduates can find a more technological solution to agriculture.
The ICT graduates can introduce different weather forecasting techniques using big data concepts, region-based market demand by Global Positioning System (GPS) and so on. In recent times, we have some agriculture-based apps like Krishaker Digital Thikana, KrishakerJanala, Agriculture Information Service, BARI app, Mrittika etc.
We all know that cultivable land is limited and it is more difficult for young people to manage land for cultivation. The government should start innovative financing in agriculture, especially for young people. Public spending in the agriculture sector is increasing at a low rate.
Allocation for agriculture and allied sectors in FY 2020-21 budget increased by 5.7 percent compared to that in the revised budget of FY 2019-2020. Despite this, the share of agriculture and allied sectors in the total budget has experienced a declining trend over the recent years from 6.03 percent (AFY19) to 5.38 percent (RB20), to 5.27 percent (BFY21).
Organic farming could be another big prospect for engaging our youth in the agricultural sector. According to IFOAM, the total land area under organic cultivation in Bangladesh is 0.177 million hectares, representing only 2 percent of the country's total cultivable land.
Though there is less demand for organic food in the local market due to higher price and less availability, if we can show our ability to grow more organic food according to global demand, it will generate a higher export income. In this, private sector initiative along with the government's cooperation is needed for success in organic food production.
To make more profit in agriculture we need to decrease the production cost and, at the same time, increase productivity. Though large scale commercial farms have higher costs, they can ensure a high level of productivity. For developing agribusinesses, we need to focus more on non-core farming activities. This includes proper supply chain management, controlling middlemen, crop selection, and packaging of products and so on.
As the world's population is growing at a rapid rate, we need to be conscious of our food production and food security. The engagement of youth in agriculture will improve our food production as they will be engaged in the agriculture sector with modern technological ideas, huge manpower and a lot of hope.
Ashraf Uddin is an undergraduate student of Economics at Noakhali Science and Technology University. Email: [email protected].