Agriculture and the generation problem: rural youth, employment and the future of farming

By Ben White, ISS

Almost all countries in the world face serious problems of mass youth unemployment and underemployment, with unemployment rates much higher in rural than in urban areas.  Small-scale agriculture is now, and if it survives in the future has the potential to remain, the developing world’s single biggest source of employment. But claims about future small-scale alternatives assume that there is a generation of rural youth who want to be small farmers, while mounting evidence suggests that young men and women are increasingly uninterested in farming or in rural futures.

If this is the case, then we have no argument against a future agriculture based on large-scale, capital intensive, labour-displacing corporate farming – which is becoming an increasingly likely possibility in the present times of renewed and accelerating corporate acquisition of land. Corporate farming (in almost all branches) will employ only a fraction of the numbers active in agriculture today, let alone creating additional jobs, and nobody has been able to make convincing arguments (although the World Bank has tried to)  that other sectors will be capable of absorbing the labour displaced from agriculture in any kind of decent work. It is therefore quite important to ask what lies behind rural young men and women’s apparent rejection of farming futures, in other words to de-construct this aspect of the world of today’s rural youth.

File: Ben White- agriculture and the generation problem.pdf