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TIGR2ESS: Transforming India's Green Revolution by Research and Empowerment for Sustainable food Supplies

A Global Challenges Research Fund project


The TIGR2ESS Flagship Project 1 team at ICRISAT recently conducted a field survey at its research site villages in Warangal district. The survey used Focus Group Discussions (FGDs) and key informant interviews to engage with farmers, farm women and rural youth. One of the key questions we asked was: What are the aspirations of rural youth to continue in agriculture and farm parent’s aspirations towards their children? Here, we summarise our findings.

Our survey included three villages in Warangal, a rural district of Telangana state. With around 1000 youth aged between 18-25 years resident in these villages, we had an excellent opportunity to speak to many youths about their experiences.

Agriculture is the main source of livelihood in the district; more than 98% of households are small and both marginal farming and agriculture have transformed significantly in the last two decades. From subsistence farming to intensive farming, from water surplus to water-scarcity, increased rural-urban migration and apathy of rural youth towards agriculture are just some of the changes.    

Why are rural youth important for agriculture?

Agriculture is an important economic activity in India and represents around 50%t of employment and around 17% of India’s gross domestic product (GDP). To sustain the agricultural sector, India needs qualified young individuals who can devote themselves to farming.

India has 600 million young people and more than half of the population is under 25 years old. But, despite the large numbers of youth, fewer are choosing agriculture as their livelihood activity.

Youth migration from rural to urban areas to find employment has been increasing – to date around 30% of 315 million migrants are youth. Based on a report from the World Bank, by 2050 half of the Indian population will be urban. At the same time, it is estimated that the percentage of agricultural workers in the total workforce will drop from 58.2% in 2001 to 25.7% by 2050. Ageing farmers and a waning interest of rural youth in agriculture is becoming a prime concern in India.

What are the aspirations of rural youth?

The day we visited the survey villages it was sunny and almost all the villagers were busy in the fields as it was sowing time. We observed a group of youth sitting below the tree chatting to one another, smartphones in their hands. We asked them what they do, what they studied and what their aspirations in life are.

We found that the majority of the youth are graduates, mainly in arts and commerce subjects. Farming is the main family occupation but most of the youth are unemployed and aiming to leave the villages in search of jobs.

Most of the youth stressed that agriculture is the last career option after trying all others in nearby Warangal or Hyderabad. The youth told us that they feel agriculture is very risky. With depleting water sources, there is no assurance of crop and, if the crop comes, there no assurance of a market. They are prepared to do small jobs in nearby cities but do not want to become involved in agriculture as their parents did:

“It is difficult to work like our parents in farms. Even putting [sic] hundred per cent effort sometimes our parents don’t get anything from the field. Such frequent situations make us think to do any work other than agriculture.”

These responses were common across all five youth groups we spoke with.

What are parents’ aspirations for their children?

We also spoke with several parents from farming families to understand their aspirations for their children. Most of them told us that they do not want their children to be in agriculture; they do not want their children to suffer like they have. One of the farmers, whose son is an arts graduate, expressed concern about his unemployed son:

“Agriculture made our life hell and we don’t want our children to do agriculture, because expenses are more, profit is less, [it] needs lot of hard work, investment problems are many and crop failure [and] crop loss are frequent”.

Another parent, a farm woman with a 19 year old daughter studying for a degree in Commerce, told us:

"[A] doctor's child aspires to become a doctor and actor's child aspires to become an actor but a farmer's child never wants to become a farmer due to its difficulties and challenges.”

Why is understanding rural aspirations important?

Aspirations are increasingly being recognized as an important dimension of well-being. People with high aspirations visualize the future and engage in forward-looking behaviour, whereas low aspirations lead to reduced efforts in bringing about a prosperous future.

An emerging body of work from education and migration studies shows there is a dearth of recent, empirical studies on the aspirations of the rural communities who depend on agricultural activities for their livelihood in developing countries like India. Understanding and nurturing these aspirations is therefore crucial for governments and development programmes to improve the well-being of the poor including rural youth.

Our discussions have allowed us to better understand some of the drivers of rural youth migration. Better employment opportunities, facilities for higher education and a higher standard of living in urban areas all attract youth away from agriculture, yet they find it difficult to live off their meagre earnings. Migration decreases the rural workforce and exacerbates gaps created due to the ageing farming population. The unskilled rural migrants also create a burden on the urban economy.

Waning interest of rural youth in agriculture will remain unless these challenges are addressed. To date, there have been limited efforts from government to upskill youth to involve them in agricultural activities. Without detailed studies to understand the aspirations of rural youth alongside state and district-level training needs assessments, the situation may not improve.

Our work on the TIGR2ESS programme in the rural, peri-urban and tribal areas of Telangana seeks to understand the aspirations of rural youth. With this work we are hoping to provide evidence based policy advice to government or development agencies to design appropriate programmes to improve the well-being of rural youth.

This blog was written by Dr Ravi Nandi and Dr S. Nedumaran, both working on Flagship Project 1 (Sustainable and Transformative Agrarian and Rural Trajectories, START) at ICRISAT in Hyderabad, India.