Our latest “Food for 9 Billion” story, airing tonight on PBS NewsHour, looks at the challenge that aging farmers pose in Japan. It’s reported by Sam Eaton, whose last piece for us was on the tension between the rising population and long-term food security in the Philippines.
Farm succession is a well-known problem in the United States, where Deputy Secretary of Agriculture Kathleen Merrigan recently dubbed the loss of young farmers an “epidemic.”
The epidemic is spreading, and not just in wealthy industrial countries. As The New York Times recently reported, Thailand’s rice farms are reeling from the massive flight of young people to the cities. In Africa, rural migration is particularly acute. The U.N. Human Settlements Program estimates that over the next 15 years, urban Africa will host at least 40,000 new residents every day. By 2050, the continent’s rural population will drop from 60 percent of the total to 40 percent. Computers and cellphones have replaced rakes and hoes as the tools of choice.
There is some movement in the opposite direction. In Senegal, where many young people dream of seeking their fortune in Europe, the government has started a Return to Agriculture program, and it’s showing success.
At Iowa State University’s Extension and Outreach program, the Beginning Farmer Center has worked to match potential farmers with retiring farmers since 1994. The California-based Farmer Veteran Coalition is working with Iraq and Afghanistan war veterans who are interested in a career in agriculture. The coalition pairs them with farmers who are transitioning out of the field.
And as our story tonight illustrates, there are pockets of young people – in the U.S., the Greenhorns are perhaps the best known example – who are finding the right mix of sunshine and social media to make farming take root among a new generation.