A Plea for Young Farmers

In this week’s El Diario de Hoy, a short article cited a lack of young experience as one of the major pitfalls in revitalizing agriculture in El Salvador. A renewed interest in farming by youth would help to improve food security, ecological degradation, as well as human capital. The article urges young people to head to the universities to study and gain technical skills as well as business and marketing tactics before starting up an agricultural business; this way, they will have the needed knowledge to be successful and the necessary sources of investment to be sustainable in the long term. In El Salvador, there is a lot of land that has either been abandoned or mistreated for years and is in need of restoration – learning new agricultural techniques to improve soil quality and farm productively on varied terrain can bring income from a previously dormant piece of land. There are several agricultural institutes in the country that offer 2-year programs as well as scholarships to study specific techniques at other prominent universities in other countries. In addition to learning techniques of their host countries, the students also have the opportunity to network and perhaps find private or non-governmental organizations willing to invest in particular innovative agricultural projects back here in El Salvador.

The aging of farmers is a world-wide problem; in Australia, the government is also trying to show young people that farming is an attractive and profitable career choice that involves education and technical skills. They are attempting to establish connections between university programs focused on agriculture and “training bodies,” which would be the farms themselves, where new techniques can be tried out. The government is actively seeking funding to establish and train regional agricultural officers who would work with apprentices in the agriculture and horticulture industries – this increased effort aims to show young people that a viable career path can be found in the growing and selling of food.*

This trend may work, as the U.S. is exemplifying. Though the average age of the American farmer is still nearly 60, the average NEW farmer is a woman, college educated, in her thirties, with a penchant for sustainable agriculture. These younger farmers are carving out niche markets and fulfilling an ever-increasing demand for local food that’s grown in a manner that’s good for us and the earth. Many people – young people – in the U.S. have realized that farming, working with the natural cycles of the earth and producing a nourishing and necessary product, is indeed a noble career path. Perhaps it comes with a lot of risk, and no one would get into hit expecting to make their first million – ever, but it’s being seen as a viable career path. And young U.S. farmers have a solid support network: farm-link programs connect retiring farmers (well, their land really) to aspiring farmers, there are an abundance of resources from local university Agricultural Extension programs, where agents can give young farmers advice on pest management and soil enhancement, among other things. There are strong networks for young farmers, such as The Greenhorns and The National Young Farmers Coalition, where they can find support and advice to keep them going through the tough times and cheer them on as they grow the local food movement. Hopefully other young farmers around the world will join together and keep the good food coming our way! But to do that – they need your support!! GO BUY LOCAL FOOD!!!

“No race can prosper until it learns there is as much dignity in tilling a field as in writing a poem.” -Booker T. Washington

A young farmer in a greenhouse; the investments came from USAID and allowed the tomatoes to be protected from insects and improved yields.
*Info taken from Grippsland Times, 23 Sep 2011 by D. Reid.

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