By Assoc Prof Dr Shri Dewi Applanaidu
The agriculture sector is among the major contributors to the Malaysian economy, in terms of food supplies, export earnings and employment generation. However, the growth of this sector has not been as rapid as the other sectors. The share of agricultural employment of total employment has been declining. This decrease in the agricultural employment has to be supported by increased productivity in agriculture, and the younger generation may hold the key to productivity improvement and global competitiveness.
The agriculture sector in Malaysia is being mainly managed now by the older generation, as very little interest is being shown by the younger generation in this sector. The Government of Malaysia has invested in this sector through various attractive initiatives, especially the Technical and Vocational Education and Training (TVET) programme, to encourage the participation of the younger generation in the agriculture sector; however, the current figures are not showing much improvement in terms of their participation.
Statistics show that the larger percentage of youth in tertiary education in Malaysia, undertaking agriculture courses, is female. Nonetheless, many do not consider a career in either the agriculture or fisheries sector. Less than a quarter of students who studied agriculture end up working in the agriculture or fisheries sector. These two sectors appear to be the least preferred sectors among students. This clearly shows an education-labour market mismatch!
The question that needs to be asked is why the younger generation is not interested in the agriculture sector. Is it because they consider working in this sector as dirty, demeaning, dangerous and difficult (4D)? Do they perceive the wages in this sector as low with no prospects of a good future? This perception is likely one of the reasons preventing youth from participating in the agriculture sector. In addition to a lack of interest, knowledge of current agricultural trends and practices is lacking among the younger generation. Traditional subsistence agriculture is not attractive for them, and it is therefore essential to transform agricultural practices in a way that is both intellectually challenging and economically rewarding.
Accordingly, it is crucial to develop systems, policies, and programmes that would encourage the participation of the younger generation in the agriculture sector and related professions, including in research and innovation. In order to expand the pool of young people who might consider a career in the agriculture sector in future, students should be taught the basic facts about the importance of agriculture and food production, right from primary and secondary education levels.
Rebranding agricultural education
Agricultural education should be rebranded in a way that can draw the attention and interest of students from the early stages of education, instead of exposing them to courses or even a degree in agriculture only at the tertiary level. Right now, the subject on agriculture is only an elective subject for SPM and this has to be changed radically to inculcate an interest in agriculture right from the formative years in primary school.
It is suggested that agricultural education be re-introduced from the primary school level in a systematic manner so that it can provide the basic foundation, which can eventually be a platform for students in secondary and tertiary education levels to choose agriculture-based subjects or programmes.
Practical modules based on scientific concepts and principles in the field of science, such as biology, chemistry, physics, earth sciences and environmental sciences, can be included in the agricultural education courses. These courses can also include environmental concerns, sustainability, optimisation of resources, technical aspects and entrepreneurship. The rebranded curriculum must reconsider competencies in business and economics, including ICT competence, to tackle the problems of global competition. In addition, efforts must be made to link theory to practice, so that students can acquire an understanding of agricultural practices and problems in the real world.
The graduates must also possess the right combination of technical skills and personal attributes, including confidence in their ability to solve problems and address challenges, as well as their ability to work as a team. This kind of systematic agricultural education will lay the foundation for the younger generation to become agropreneurs and competent human capital in the agriculture sector.
Agents of change
Engagement of the younger generation in the agriculture sector is essential as they can be the much needed agents of change and not merely the receivers of assistance and support. Employers today require graduates to be competent, not only in the primary production of agriculture, but also in the aspects of secondary production, i.e., distribution, processing, promotion and consumer satisfaction.
As the agriculture sector is expected to be transformed rapidly, especially with the advent of the Fourth Industrial Revolution (IR 4.0), the younger generation must be the major players. The participation of the younger generation in the agriculture sector is very important to ensure sustainable and highly knowledgeable human capital in this sector to achieve the Shared Prosperity Vision in 2030.
Assoc Prof Dr Shri Dewi Applanaidu is with the School of Economics, Finance & Banking and also a Research Fellow at the Economic and Financial Policy Institute (ECoFI), Universiti Utara Malaysia.