Global Agriculture Struggles to Attract New Farmers

Lydia Sasu of Ghana speaks during the 2013 Global Farmer Roundtable. photo by Jessica Schlager

Lydia Sasu of Ghana speaks during the 2013 Global Farmer Roundtable. Photo by Jessica Schlager

By Kate Hrdina

DES MOINES, Iowa — The most popular idea in the international agricultural community today seems to be that global population will hit 9 billion by 2050. The most obvious resulting problem is that everyone needs food, and current practices may not keep up with the growth.

But the 8th annual Truth About Trade and Technology Global Farmer Roundtable today dug into a deeper problem: Who is going to feed everyone?

As farmers see lower and lower profits, small agricultural communities in America see fewer and fewer children return to the farm after college. This same financial trend also discourages youth abroad to become farmers.

“Nobody will stay in the village when there’s electricity and water in the next town,” Lydia Sasu, a farmer from Ghana, said during the discussion. “It’s like punishment for children to go back to the farm.”

Even larger economies such as Poland struggle to retain a workforce for the future.

“Two million young people have emmigrated for jobs to other European countries,” Roman Warzecha of Poland said.

Gerrid Gust, a farmer from Canada, said his government doesn’t provide credit and insurance, so it does not protect farmers against the inherent riskiness of their profession. The result is farms that cannot support the families who run them.

“Canada is strewn with 1,000-acre farms that are not sustainable,” Gust said. He described farmers’ wives who have retail jobs to bring in needed extra income.

Trevor Gifford of Zimbabwe voiced a similar opinion. The government needs to give security to its farmers but is failing due to “terrible interest rates,” Gifford said.

The search for a solution is multi-fold, according to many of the representatives.

First, agriculture needs to be seen as a high-tech industry. Second, farmers need to be paid competitively. If someone with the same education level is getting paid more, the workers will flock to the higher-paying job.

If these are both achieved, the hope is that youth will either stay in or enter agriculture as a profession. Each representative stressed the importance of educating youth in the future of agriculture.

Regardless of the uncertainty of who will farm future fields, the representatives said they were optimistic over the short term. When moderator Robert Thompson asked if the farmers were confident about the future of agriculture over the next five years, 14 out of the 15 said yes.

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