Besides productivity and limited land, another problem facing Indonesian agriculture is farmer regeneration. The 2013 agricultural census data shows that more than 80 percent of agricultural business households are aged 35 years and over. In addition, from 2008 to 2012 there was a reduction of more than one million young farmers in Indonesia (Ministry of Agriculture 2015).
We also often hear people say “Young people today are not interested in becoming farmers”. In addition, many parents, including those who work as farmers, do not want their children to become farmers.
Why are the younger generation not interested in farming
The disinterest of young people in agriculture is caused by at least three things (White, 2012). First, the education system instills the idea that farming is not an attractive business or occupation. At school, agriculture is generally not depicted as a strategic sector that also drives the national economy and, more importantly, as a place where the food we eat every day is produced.
Second, there is long-term neglect by the government of small-scale agriculture which is a very large absorber of work and of rural development in many areas. This in turn resulted in farming activities becoming economically unpromising.
Third, the limited access of the young generation to land caused by land grabbing and concentration of land ownership. At the family level, access to land through inheritance must wait a long time or after a parent dies. When the parents were still alive, they did not want to grant land to their children because they were worried about their children’s ability to manage the land or because they were afraid that the land would be sold.
(Back) to be a farmer
In the midst of pessimism and anxiety about the regeneration of Indonesian farmers, it is important to look at employment data which shows that agriculture is still the main absorber of young workers in Indonesia. This sector absorbs 32 percent of all young people working in Indonesia. More specifically, it absorbs 53 percent of the entire working rural youth workforce (BPS 2013).
It is important to pay attention to this fact so that the government does not only focus on creating jobs in the non-agricultural sector but also focuses on strengthening the agricultural sector which incidentally is the largest absorber of young workers compared to other sectors.
In addition, AKATIGA’s research conducted in five rice-producing districts in Indonesia (2013-2015) shows that there are indeed many young people who are not interested in agriculture; however that does not necessarily mean they will leave the agricultural sector forever. Regarding the presence of young people leaving the village, this study found that migration is not a final decision. AKATIGA also found that there were villagers who temporarily migrated while waiting for access to land and in order to collect money to then use it to buy or access agricultural land. There is also seasonal migration that takes place during times when jobs in agriculture are less needed. Many of them will return to the village during the harvest season.
Thus, even if many young people today are not (or not yet) interested in working or doing business in the agricultural sector, in the next decade or two when they return to the village they will probably be interested. The problem then is, will there still be agricultural land available for them to work on? Or if it is still available, is the price affordable for residents who want to become a farmer? This question is also very relevant today; if there are young people who want to farm, is there still land available for them? Or can they access it?
These important questions bring us to the basic issue of the importance of providing land for farming activities and protecting it from speculators. In this case, there are already good examples in regions implementing agrarian policies at the village level where the village government manages bengkok land to be leased out on a priority basis to the poor and young people who want to farm. Village Law No. 6 of 2014 which regulates the allocation of village funds is large enough to open opportunities for other villages to imitate agrarian policy initiatives at the village level.
Dreams and reality
In discussing the issue of the disinterest of the younger generation in agriculture, we need to distinguish between aspirations or ideals and the actual reality that will occur. If today’s youth are not interested in becoming farmers, it does not necessarily mean that they will not become farmers in the future. Not everyone who is currently a trader, journalist, or factory worker aspired to work in these fields. Likewise with the unwillingness to become a farmer. It should not be understood as a reality that will not change.
In the midst of limited employment opportunities in urban areas or along with increasing maturity, it is very likely that in the end many people will choose farming as a livelihood.
So what must be done then is to make agriculture a field that is economically promising enough to be chosen by both today’s youth and in the future when they get a little older. Apart from providing access to land as stated above, another thing that needs to be done is to improve the welfare of the farmers through guarantees of certainty over the prices of agricultural products and protecting them from the actions of speculators or unfair market mechanisms. As the welfare of farmers increases, young people can see that farming is a decent type of work to choose.