Life after farmers. How will we manage without them?

ByKate Meakin . London

21 January 2011
Kerala farmer and son

An informal and unscientific poll of the farmers that I’ve met so far in Kerala confirm that within the next decade or two we may be moseying along into a huge farming crisis as  NONE of the farmers thought their children would take over the family business.

Kerala is a bit of an exceptional place as they have universal access to education resulting in 100% literacy. The educated young people inevitably go abroad or to the city to earn better money in office jobs. However that aside we can see this scenario being reenacted across the rest of the globe, for example in the UK and the US the average age of a farmer is 58 and in Kenya it’s 60.

There are lots of reasons for this. In all countries, low prices and the constant uncertain fluctuating market have pushed people away from farming. In others farming is a low status occupation, so even if the returns are good, a job elsewhere is preferred.

Cadbury’s recognized the problem and the threat this insecure situation posed to the long term viability of their business and so decided to invest in the supply chain through the Fairtrade system and also their own cocoa programme. The move, amongst other things, resulted in the Dairy Milk bar achieving Fairtrade certification and meant cocoa farming being a more attractive proposition for workers and young people in the area.

Another difficult truth is that the practically universally agreed with right of access to education for young people (especially dear to Fair Trade supporters), has an unintended other consequence: the traditional skills which for centuries have been passed down from generation to generation are getting lost as people learn about computers instead of farming.

I’m not saying that we should reverse the situation and if I was offered a job as a farmer I would turn it down straight away (pros: nice views, driving a tractor and fresh food. Cons: early starts, bad pay, bad weather, no holidays and never ending long hours). But it does need serious thought and debate in the Fair Trade world and beyond.

What on earth are we going to do when there are no more farmers?


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