Agroecology: Youth will be the change!

Youth will be the change

15 days/3 month Intensive course on agroecology with rural youth at Amrita Bhoomi,

Youth are leaving agriculture. Our agonizing countryside doesn’t exactly paint a rosy picture to build a life upon. Their parents encourage them to go to the city, take up a white-collar job -‘we don’t want our children to suffer like us,’  they say. Yet many rural youth experience that visceral pull to the land. They want, like their forefathers, to live in the countryside. They want to focus on the success stories instead of the misery. The city doesn’t really excite them, some of them have already tried their hand at IT or engineering. They know it’s possible to come back to the land, but they just don’t know how to start.

It is to encourage such rural youth that Amrita Bhoomi along with outstanding Baduku Community College is carrying out an intensive and profound life-changing course on sustainable agriculture. But this is not just a theoretical or technical course on practices. This 15-day course, spread over 3 months, begins with an exploration of the ‘self’ as a farmer – it asks the students to go deep into their hearts and histories to ask who they are in society- What is their position? What caste are they? What is their gender? what are the power relations that lie behind all these relations. Are they privileged? Are they the oppressor or the oppressed? What does it mean to be a farmer? What disasters have their own farming families been hit by? Most of them have never asked such questions of looked at how they form part of the larger society or its structures, and how they themselves can also be the change.

The 25-odd students of the course came from such a diversity of backgrounds, classes, castes that it was an emotional, intensive and a deep bonding experience. Only 1 woman participated, mainly because of the course timings that ran late into the evening and against their families comfort levels. There are plans to bring out a women-only course in the future set to their convenience. About 5 students were of urban origin–they quit their city jobs to move to the countryside for good.

The students lived on the Amrita Bhoomi campus for a week during this first phase of the course. The other sections of the course are called ‘perspectives’ and ‘skills’- the first is a historical Perspective of agriculture in India. It deals with pre-colonial agriculture, the impact of colonialism and advent of cash crops, the changes post independence, green revolution, trade liberalization, and ongoing current agrarian crisis and its facets. The Skills section focuses on practices of agroecology–observation of the land, plants, seed production, water conservation, crop cycles, microbial mixtures with cow dung and local ingredients. They learn to observe nature, they learn these skills as art and passion, not just through the scientific technical lens.

    The day started with some ‘seva’ or service – they had to work in the kitchen, clean the showers and toilets, work on the farm, and dedicate some time daily to keep the machine running. The day ended with movies, song or dance.

Now the students are home for a month. They have been asked to practice at least 3 of the skills acquired on a section of their parents’ lands and come back with the lessons that the earth teaches them. They will use their new found epiphanies to look at their world in a new way, one where they have the power to change their own realities.

     “Our families are against us doing this course, they really don’t want us to come back to the land,” expressed many students. The main struggle for them starts at home, “but we are determined.”

“They are very idealistic and romantic, but we will see over the next three months how they fare,” said Ramesh, the main farmer-trainer from Baduku college.