The massive reverse migration of people from urban areas to villages ever since lockdown was imposed due to COVID-19 has put focus on the Attracting and Retaining Youth in Agriculture (ARYA) scheme of the Centre with several experts suggesting that time is now ideal to go for full-fledged implementation of the ambitious scheme.
ARYA scheme is presently being implemented in 100 districts in the country on an experimental basis. The Indian Council of Agricultural Research (ICAR) took up this initiative several years ago following report by a committee of experts that looked into ways and means of wooing rural youth to agriculture and allied sectors by ensuring a dignified life for them in villages.
Such a scheme had been taken up particularly in the wake of a majority of rural youth shunning agriculture and migrating to cities in search of menial jobs. The main intention of the scheme was to turn agriculture and allied sectors into attractive and profit-making proposition for the rural youth. Of course, the benefits of the scheme are not confined to rural youth alone as the country’s food and nutritional security would be taken care of if vibrancy of farming sector is ensured by attracting youth and pressure on urban areas is reduced by checking migration.
Karnataka had played a crucial part in drafting this report as agricultural extension expert and the then Vice-Chancellor of University of Agricultural Sciences-Bengaluru (UAS-B) K. Narayana Gowda headed the committee that prepared the report.
Agricultural scientist S. Ayyappan, who was instrumental in constituting the committee to prepare the ARYA report as the then Director-General of ICAR, says time is now ideal for full-fledged implementation of the scheme. Pointing out that those who have migrated to villages may be left with no other choice, but to return to urban areas in search of jobs if they do not find gainful employment in villages in the next one or two months, he says immediate attention should be given to provide them the options of remunerative incomes in villages through the implementation of ARYA report.
He seeks to make it clear that rural sector has immense potential for creating employment opportunities if proper infrastructure is created and training is provided to impart skills. “Rural employment is not just about mainstream farm activity. For example, farm sector needs plenty of mechanics who can repair pumpsets and various agricultural machineries. If agriculture gains vibrancy, then there will be demand for such jobs in rural areas,” he points out.
Also, the agricultural season is just about to begin now and hence it is the right time to engage those who have returned to villages in farm operations so that they would get income, he feels.
Echoing similar views, Dr. Gowda, the architect of the ARYA report, says that the ARYA scheme provides for imparting skill training to identified youth in various farm operations besides the facility to handhold them through various organisations in the beginning of their operations. The basic idea is to turn rural youth into agri entrepreneurs.
“The committee which was formed in 2011, submitted its report in 2013 and the initial implementation of the scheme was taken up in 2015-16 in 25 districts. Presently, it is being implemented in 100 districts with a target of training 10,000 rural youth over three years in various aspects,” he says.
The scheme is being implemented through Krishi Vigyan Kendras, which will in turn involve several scientific institutions as technology partners. The main intention is to instil confidence in youth that agriculture is still not only a profitable venture, but a respectable profession, he says.
In this regard, his report had recommended measures to make farming an intellectually stimulating and economically rewarding activity. It had also recommended building social reputation of innovative farm youth through awards.
As part of such an initiative, Dr. Gowda had even commenced a system of honouring innovative farm youth from every taluk during the annual Krishi Mela of the UAS-B. These awards have helped in not only providing social recognition to young and innovative farmers, but are also inspiring other educated youth to take to farming.
‘Social problems may arise if returnees are not engaged in gainful employment’
As a large number of people from various classes in urban areas have returned to villages due to lockdown, experts warn of a social problem if measures are not taken to ensure some income for them by creating employment opportunities.
“No doubt that the time is opportune to woo them into farm or allied sectors by imparting skills. But if no such measures are taken, then there is a strong possibility of some of such returnees taking to anti-social activities after they exhaust their resources,” says Dr. Gowda.
He feels that time should not be lost in engaging them in gainful employment, while maintaining that “agriculture can provide employment to all of them depending upon their qualification and skill sets.”
Pointing out that presently the country is witnessing post-harvest losses of crops to the extent of ₹1 lakh crore a year, he says this is an indication of employment potential that the agri processing sector can offer for the youth.
Former Indian Council of Agricultural Research Director-General S. Ayyappan says it hardly takes a week’s training in imparting skills to help anyone to take to different aspects of agriculture. But if you delay this process, then the trouble may start, he warns.