Becoming a Young Farmer


Becoming a Young Farmer with the subtitle Young People’s Pathways into Farming: Canada, China, India and Indonesia is a collection of research papers published by Palgrave Macmillan in 2024 and has been edited by Sharada Srinivasan. It highlights the urgent need to address the crisis of ‘generational renewal’ in agriculture and food systems. Farming populations are ageing across the world and do not seem to have successors who are eager to continue farming. The book brings this issue to the fore and studies key aspects like motivations, barriers faced and how gender impacts the process.

The book looks for “commonalities, comparisons and contrasts” in the experiences of young farmers between countries and between regions within a country. Two sites have been selected in each country: Ontario and Manitoba in Canada; Sichuan and Hebei Provinces in China; Tamil Nadu and Madhya Pradesh in India; and West Manggarai, Central Java and Yogyakarta in Indonesia. The guiding research framework combines concepts from agrarian studies, youth studies, generation studies and gender and development, thus marking a departure from conventional agrarian studies.

This 456-page document has been divided into 15 chapters: Introduction: Young People’s Pathways into Farming by Sharada Srinivasan and Ben White (Chapter 1); “Passion Alone Is Not Sufficient”: What Do We Know About Young Farmers in Canada? by Joshua Nasielski, Sharada Srinivasan, Travis Jansen, and A. Haroon Akram-Lodhi (Chapter 2); “Regenerating” Agriculture: Becoming a Young Farmer in Manitoba, Canada by Hannah Jess Bihun and Annette Aurélie Desmarais (Chapter 3); Impervious Odds and Complicated Legacies: Young People’s Pathways into Farming in Ontario, Canada by Travis Jansen, Sharada Srinivasan, and A. Haroon Akram-Lodhi (Chapter 4); Young Farmers and the Dynamics of Agrarian Transition in China by Lu Pan (Chapter 5); Young Farmers’ Difficulties and Adaptations in Agriculture: A Case Study from a Mountainous Town in Sichuan Province, Southwest China by Dong Liang and Lu Pan (Chapter 6); Young Farmers in a “Cucumber Village”: A Different Story of Family Farming in Agricultural Specialization from Hebei Province by Lu Pan (Chapter 7); The Youth Dividend and Agricultural Revival in India by Sudha Narayanan, M. Vijayabaskar, and Sharada Srinivasan (Chapter 8); Becoming/Being a Young Farmer in a Fast-Transitioning Region: The Case of Tamil Nadu by M. Vijayabaskar and Radha Varadarajan (Chapter 9); “I Had to Bear This Burden”: Youth Transcending Constraints to Become Farmers in Madhya Pradesh, India by Sudha Narayanan (Chapter 10); Youth and Agriculture in Indonesia by Aprilia Ambarwati, Charina Chazali, Isono Sadoko, and Ben White (Chapter 11); Young Farmers’ Access to Land: Gendered Pathways into and Out of Farming in Nigara and Langkap (West Manggarai, Indonesia) by Charina Chazali, Aprilia Ambarwati, Roy Huijsmans, and Ben White (Chapter 12); The Long Road to Becoming a Farmer in Kebumen, Central Java, Indonesia by Aprilia Ambarwati and Charina Chazali (Chapter 13); Pluriactive and Plurilocal: Young People’s Pathways Out of and into Farming in Kulon Progo, Yogyakarta, Indonesia by Ben White and Hanny Wijaya (Chapter 14); Conclusion: Youth Aspirations, Trajectories, and Farming Futures by A. Haroon Akram-Lodhi and Roy Huijsmans (Chapter 15).


  1. The primary contention of the book – and one which marks a point of departure from conventional agrarian studies – is that instead of trying to understand the apparent lack of interest and exodus of young people from farming, the need is to understand what motivates young people to stay in, continue in or return to rural areas and farming, what barriers they face and what support they need. Such a focus, the book notes, would better inform policy measures to support young people’s decisions to take up agriculture.
  2. The book demonstrates that becoming a farmer is not a singular event, but rather a process. The study shows that the average age at which people take up farming independently is 23 years. However, for most farmers surveyed in the book, this happens much later as people often explore non-agricultural employment before taking up farming anew.
  3. The study engages with the term youth both in the chronological and social (generational) meaning of the term – i.e. as a relative stage in a person’s life cycle depending on the demographic context. Far from being dubbed as a water-tight and discrete category, such a definition allows young older farmers, who can still remember their experiences while entering farming, to share their stories. Moreover, it underlines the earlier point that taking up agriculture is not a single (discrete) event but a process. The book therefore interviewed farmers in the age range of 18-45 years.
  4. The study makes a distinction between ‘newcomer’ and ‘returning’ farmers. Newcomers have taken up farming but do noy have any background either professional or personal (family-owned farm, or growing up on a farm). Returning farmers on the other hand have either grown up on a farm or their families have traditionally been involved in agriculture. These are again no discrete categories but have enough in-group similarities for purposes of the study.
  5. The study presents a comparative analysis of young farmers’ pathways into agriculture in four countries with fairly divergent economic and social profiles but with enough commonalities on different parameters (such as, rising average age of farmers, rising prices of farmlands, young people turning away from agriculture) so as to underline the crisis of generational renewal across diverse contexts.
  6. The book notes that with the exception of Canada and to a far lesser extent Indonesia, newcomer farmers were not captured in the sample. This is because without the benefit of family-owned land and agricultural knowledge, it is much more daunting to take up farming. 
  7. While migration appears to be prevalent, it does not imply a complete cessation of farming activity. Many young people try to work in the non-agricultural sector in urban areas and then decide to return to the village due to several pull factors – possibility of better life, agribusiness opportunities (as in the case of China), helping old parents and the possibility of being one’s own boss.
  8. The book demonstrates that innovation among farmers is not necessarily tied to young age. It is more a factor of farmers’ commitment and drive towards making a mark in agriculture. 
  9. The most common barrier in taking up agriculture is land availability and price. This is true for both returning farmers and newcomers as returning farmers find the size of inherited land decreasing because of division within family and succession laws and newcomers find land prices steep. Financial markets fail to fill in the gap as private sector finance is almost inaccessible to young women and men farmers in all four countries, the book notes.
  10. The inclusion of gender as a unit of analysis in the study has been crucial as it demonstrates that regardless of socio-cultural context, women tend to find it difficult to access resources and receive recognition as farmers. 
  11. The book notes that intergenerational renewal of farming requires that farming be a good source of livelihood – one that improves the life of young farmers and their families. Such a possibility needs a supportive community and robust policy framework. 
  12. The view that young people are averse to taking up farming as a means of livelihood is misguided, the book notes. Structural and economic issues curtail the profitability and viability of farming as a livelihood. This coupled with the lure of urban life, dictates a decision to migrate away from rural areas.

    Focus and Factoids by Aditi Dikey. 


Editor: Sharada Srinivasan


Open Access