Respect farming: No food, no life

Focussing on the bottom-up approach in extension can somehow develop the feeling of ownership among farmers. The Nepali agriculture extension system is showing slow progress because there’s a lack of coordination between the different units working for the same sector

“ What do you want to be in the future?” this is the most common question that all of us have encountered at some point in our childhood, to which we replied, “A doctor, engineer, pilot, scientist or actor.”

Did anyone of us say we wanted to be a farmer? I’ve rarely encountered anyone who has studied agriculture because it was his/her dream while growing up.

Not only children, even parents always set high aspirations and dreams for their children, neglecting agriculture as their future career. So where does the problem lie? The answer is pretty obvious.

Agriculture isn’t considered a respectable occupation in a country where majority of the population depends upon farming. A farmer himself isn’t willing to make his son a farmer, instead he is ready to send him to a foreign land by taking loads of money as a loan. The numerous challenges faced by farmers while farming in terms of unavailability of resources on time, crop failure, environmental uncertainties and many more compel them to encourage their children to other occupations.

Today when children living in the urban areas are asked where ‘rice’ grows, they are likely to answer the “market”. Pictures of rice plantation by farmers with those wrinkled hands, a wide grin on the face, and the soothing folk music interest people no more. With the advent of the modern era and the sophisticated lifestyle copied from the west, the needs of the people have changed, and fame, money, gadgets have become the ‘new life’. But do we belong here? Earnings will have no value if there are no farmers to cultivate the land. We must inculcate these values in the children with the message that food and farmers are our life, and we are incomplete without them. You reap as you sow, so it is high time children were moulded into youngsters who show deep respect for the farming occupation.

During the corona pandemic, the leisure time spent by the children on gadgets and technology can be utilised to teach them to plant seeds in a pot, grow flowers on their own and visualise the transformation they go through. Provided space is available, working with kids in the kitchen garden would bring vitality to both parents and kids. Nothing can feel as natural as the touch of the sand, the smell of herbs and the connection with nature. As the children savour the food they eat, it is necessary to let them know where it comes from.

In my first lecture, I was asked the reason for joining the bachelor’s degree course in agriculture. To this, I had replied, “I wish to be an example to my community by studying a simple subject, agriculture.” I still remember the expression of dissatisfaction on the professor’s face. “There is no subject as complex as agriculture,” he had replied.

Having completed more than half of the syllabus, encountered many farmers, trained them and listened to their never-ending stories, now I visualise farming from a completely different perspective. I am grateful to my professor who had asked me the question that instilled in me the quest to explore the complexity of this field.

The course on agriculture has incorporated diverse subjects rarely found in other fields. Detailed knowledge of the most important courses and surficial knowledge on others have been included in the course curriculum.

I believe one proves to be a true learner only after one is able to teach the lessons gained to the targeted group of people. Change is not easy; it’s extremely difficult to change the practices that have existed since time immemorial. It’s difficult to convince a farmer to revolutionise the farming system, and this is where the complexity of agricultural study lies.

Focussing on the bottom-up approach in extension can somehow develop the feeling of ownership among farmers. The Nepali agriculture extension system is showing slow progress because there’s a lack of coordination between the different units working for the same sector.

National Agriculture Research Centre (NARC) as a research station is conducting research activities to enhance agricultural productivity, the University focusses on imparting knowledge to the youths to enhance agricultural productivity and the Department of Extension is designated to disseminate the information from the research station to the farmers to enhance productivity.

Despite the same goal, they work independently, which has created a gap in information flow. This is one of the hindrances to improving productivity in the agricultural sector, which needs immediate attention.

As youths pursuing a career in agriculture, our role during the pandemic caused by the coronavirus should be on empowering farmers from our level and sharing the efficient techniques learned to control pests, diseases, physiological disorders, low germination and many other problems they face, which result in declining productivity, causing loss to the farmers.

Also, people from non-farming backgrounds should be encouraged to grow their food utilising all available space in the best way possible. This is the era of technology, and switching from conventional farming to a modern one is essential to combat food insecurity.

A common problem faced by the professors in higher education is that students lack important prior knowledge and skills when they enter the more advanced courses in their curriculum. To understand the implication of modern technologies on farming requires knowledge of the basics in the first place. Using farming tools and growing up with the soil from an early age strengthens the basic knowledge of those wishing to pursue a career in agriculture. Further, it is also a basic life skill that one requires to grow food for a steady supply of nutrients required by our body.

Khanal is with the Institute of Agriculture and Animal Science (IAAS), Lamjung