“I DON’T want any of my children to work in this industry. The volume of fish is reducing: you can’t even earn enough to survive. Why would I want my children to take over my business? That’s why there are no young people that want to be fishermen. We are the last generation” (TheStarOnline at bit.ly/2H7AFkv, May 4).
These comments on the plight of fishermen in Muar hit me hard, and I believe that most, if not all farmers growing our food, would have the same outlook.
Not unlike the fisherman’s lot, a farmer’s income is unstable, his produce perishable and his yield at the mercy of changes in the weather and prices of inputs. He most definitely does not have employee benefits and paid leave.
In fact, when prices of goods at the supermarket go up, farmers probably do not get an increase in income, but when prices fall, they would be the first to suffer the ill effects.
Farming is also what most people would consider “dirty, difficult and demanding”. It is no wonder that young people are not interested in this sector!
The United Nations has projected that world population would reach 9.8 billion in 2050 from the current figure of 7.6 billion.
Food production in agriculture is one of the most essential sectors but also the most criticised and under-appreciated.
As a graduate with an agriculture degree in Malaysia, I often wonder how many of us would eventually end up in the agricultural field. I cannot help but lament Malaysians’ dependence on food imports as well as on the ageing local farmers and foreign workers who continue to work hard so that we can have food on our table.
So how do we get the younger generation to participate in agriculture and food production? Technology would be one of the obvious answers. We can consider bringing in investments from countries with advanced agricultural technology, and encouraging domestic investments to modernise and automate their existing operations.
We are promoting Industry 4.0 in manufacturing but what is the current level in adoption of precision agriculture in Malaysia? The use of artificial intelligence (AI), Internet of Things (IoT) and other evolving technologies can change the perception of how food is produced, making it more appealing for the younger generation.
It is important to make our children realise that tomatoes and eggs do not magically appear on the supermarket shelves. Education, starting from a young age, will help alter the deep-rooted mindset that farming is a lowly career option.
Introducing hands-on agriculture and farming activities to children would teach them where food comes from and how it is produced.
The supply chain in agriculture is so extensive that the opportunities are endless, especially with social media and the Internet to facilitate growth. We can now diversify our markets and sell agricultural products to anywhere in the world.
We should leverage on our youths’ creativity and encourage them to innovate and venture into agricultural entrepreneurial activities. This is especially crucial to promote rural development and empower rural communities, particularly women and youth.
A government’s influence on agricultural decisions cannot be emphasised enough. It affects what a farmer grows, how a commodity is traded at the world market and even one’s decision to become a farmer. Effective agricultural policies will encourage and guide producers and the general public to improve the agricultural sector.
However, crafting policies and implementing them is one thing, but continuous work and follow up to ensure success is another.
Over the past decades, have subsidies and incentives proven beneficial to farmers in Malaysia? Did we achieve the objectives of the earlier national agricultural policies and follow through with the outcome?
The new direction released by the Agriculture and Agro-based Industry Ministry looks promising but they have a lot to do to ensure efficient use of resources and protect the welfare of both producers and consumers.
Food security and sustainable agriculture go hand in hand with economic development. By focusing on value addition and tapping the right market, Malaysia’s food production sector has as much potential as, if not more than, our palm oil industry.
We need young farmers and entrepreneurs to realise this potential. We Malaysians show the most passion for food, yet we also take food for granted. Remember that farmers feed all of us regardless of whether we are doctors, CEOs, engineers or accountants.
So why not be a farmer?
LEE YI LIN
Master’s student Department of Agribusiness
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