Young farmers seen as key to national food security
The Jakarta Post
An architect by training, 26-year-old Ronaldiaz Hartantyo has decided to make a living as a farmer, a career choice most Indonesian people of his age would never think of.
After completing his bachelor's degree from the Bandung Institute of Technology (ITB) in 2011, Aldi, as he is affectionately called, and three friends set up Agritektur, a cooperative to help small-scale vegetable farmers in Bandung, West Java, develop strategies to expand their market.
It did not take long for him to finally roll up his sleeves and start his own organic farming business.
'Many young people see farming as an obsolete profession that earns you no money,' Aldi said over the weekend.
'In fact, it can be a cool job.'
Despite labeling itself an agricultural country, Indonesia has seen a continuous decline in the number of farmers ' by an average 1.93 percent each year between 2010 and 2014.
The sector's contribution to the country's gross domestic product (GDP) has fallen from 15.2 percent in 2003 to 14.4 percent a decade later.
A lack of regeneration in the country's agriculture sector could jeopardize Indonesian food security in the future. Only 12 percent of the country's 35 million farmers are younger than 35 years.
A survey conducted last year in three Central Java regencies by the Indonesian Institute of Sciences (LIPI) also found that most children of farmers objected to following in the footsteps of their parents, as they thought working in cities offered a more promising life than labor-intensive farming.
Speaking at a recent discussion in Bandung, Ben White, a professor of rural sociology at the International Institute of Social Studies (ISS) in The Hague, said many countries were facing a similar challenge.
White, who speaks fluent Indonesian, urged continuous attempts to encourage young people to get involved in agriculture in order to guarantee the sustainability of national food production.
Despite their reluctance, young people, he said, had the potential to significantly improve the agricultural sector, as they were more responsive to innovation and technological changes than older farmers.
'Regeneration is very important in the agricultural sector,' White stressed.
'If young people do not fill this gap, there is a possibility that they will contribute to increasing unemployment, which has become a major problem in the 21st century,' he said.
Researchers Yogaprasta A. Nugraha and Rina Herawati of the Bandung-based Akatiga Social Analysis Center shared a similar view.
To attract young people to work as farmers, the researchers suggested that local governments provide them with rent subsidies for farmland.
'A subdistrict administration can make use of its land assets in a land bank [program], in which young villagers can access the land with a certain subsidy,' they said in a paper published recently in Akatiga's Social Analysis Journal.
Aldi, meanwhile, acknowledged that encouraging people to go into farming required more than just words. They had to see how the profession could be financially rewarding.
To achieve such a goal, Aldi and his friends, for instance, regularly organize a mobile market, in which farmers can meet directly with customers in downtown Bandung and learn about the latter's product preferences or research opportunities to expand their business, including by opening small-scale agrotourism services.
'In the end, customers understand that they will always need farmers, as they cannot eat money,' he said.
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