Northeast India can prosper through smart, youth-centric agriculture

Agriculture has always been the lifeblood of Northeast India, nourishing the region’s vibrant culture and diverse communities. Seasonal crops and related celebrations are deeply intertwined with the history, well-being and health of its communities. Like its people, crops are diverse and resilient due to a wide-ranging agro-climatic zone that sustains distinct and endangered biodiversity.

With the increasing challenges posed by climate change, population growth and evolving market dynamics, the need for sustainable, smart, yet localised agricultural practices has become more pressing than ever before.

Rethinking smart agriculture for its uptake and applicability in the Northeast is critical to building pathways out of scarcity, climate event-related damage to crops and new opportunities for youth to view agriculture as an aspirational livelihood. Youth and children can be the most critical stakeholders in this process.

Making agriculture aspirational

Some years ago, we noticed that farming is no longer an aspirational livelihood for youth with limited local livelihood opportunities; most were opting for migration. Indigenous crops were also reduced in favour of hybrid and non-local varieties.

Monocropping was becoming popular, adversely impacting diversity in local diets as crop and diet diversities are intrinsically linked. These disturbing trends presented an opportunity to rethink agriculture and innovation and make it more community-centric, in fact, even child-centric. 

A new approach to smart farming became possible with an effort to engage with children and youth at the school level, making community spaces into science and agriculture laboratories where children can connect with nature, science and technology while learning more about their agricultural and food histories.

Children were also encouraged to organise village rallies to collect indigenous seeds and learn more about how to grow them. Building confidence using a youth-centric approach is the first step towards engaging long-term with communities as a whole.

This approach helps them discover their relationship with the larger ecosystem, its relationship with parents, friends, their community and the environment around them. Diversity in plants, insects and people is bound in a beautiful web of co-habitation, teaching youth about co-existence.

Children and their households are relearning about resource management and soil management. Through vermicomposting and pest management, they are quickly realising that not all insects are pests. In a localised smart agriculture model, the word ‘pest’ is actually considered dishonouring. The same applies to weeds as well.

In Assam, over 100 varieties of crops are classified under weeds, but village communities have historically consumed them. 

When you create an aspiration for a young person for an agri-entrepreneurship career, you have to help them discover the profession.

However, on viewing some trends in the context of Assam, several large industries are investing in agriculture after purchasing thousands of acres. Food will always remain there and will never go out of the market.

The idea of creating entrepreneurship around food is easy; we simply have to help build the larger vision for youth. Many organisations and institutions are doing fantastic work around agriculture at the national level.

For instance, in Maharashtra, women have been trained as frontline workers in farming, para-vet and solar engineering. Today, krishisakhi, pashusakhi and solarsakhi are creating an ecosystem of inquiry that helps open minds to the idea of smart agriculture that is community-centred.

This nurturing environment which is familiar yet exploratory helps in building the aspirations of youth towards becoming agro-entrepreneurs and smart farmers.

Towards a prosperous future

The convergence of traditional wisdom and technology in smart agriculture can open the gateway to a prosperous future for Northeast India’s farmers and communities.

It will likely empower them to adapt to changing conditions, preserve their cultural heritage and build a stronger and self-reliant agricultural sector. Inspiring young minds towards agriculture will lead to further innovations. As we have witnessed the IT revolution, which was led by young minds who saw a dream and believed in it.

As Northeast India looks forward to a future where agriculture thrives amid challenges, smart agriculture that is youth-centric emerges as the guiding force. 

By blending traditional wisdom with modern technologies, the region can build a resilient and sustainable agricultural landscape that sustains its heritage while supporting rural livelihoods, ensuring food security despite extreme climate events like floods.

With a deep-rooted commitment to preserving its agricultural legacy, Northeast India is poised to embrace a more localised version of smart agriculture for its farmers and communities by inspiring its children and youth.

iews expressed are the author’s own and don’t necessarily reflect those of Down To Earth

Deep Jyoti Sonu Brahma is the director of Farm2Food Foundation, Assam. He is also a member of Rebuild India Fund Investment Committee.