Remember the time in school when you were asked what you wanted to become once you grew up? And remember how everyone talked about either becoming a doctor or an engineer? Not many would have raised their hands in class, especially those belonging to the middle and upper classes, and proudly express an ambition of becoming farmers, despite the latter's invaluable contribution to the country and its economy.
However, slowly but surely, youngsters are taking an active interest in agriculture. Many have realised that if they can manage a farm on their own, they can actually earn a lot more than what their friends make in multinational companies.
Take for instance, the case of Nazrul Islam Badal. A 38-year-old mathematics graduate from a village in Gazipur, Nazrul has converted the land he inherited from his father into a wonderful date palm garden. Previously, Badal was involved in the telecommunication sector. After suffering a huge loss, he realised that it wasn't his true calling.
“I was very curious about the date palm business. Once I realised that I could grow them here, I desperately started looking for more information online. I found farmers from Thailand who received a bumper yield and bought 2,000 plants from them with a bank loan in 2015,” explains Badal.
Currently, Badal owns 105 large trees of 16 species of date palms in his garden. On an average, each tree contains 70 to 80 kilograms of premium date palms, of which each kg can be sold at Tk 2,000 – 2,500. Badal claims that in some cases his dates are sweeter than those of Saudi Arabia.
At the same time, Badal has also been selling plants and seeds of these date palms to interested parties. Depending on the age of the plants, each plant costs around Tk 2,000 – 10,000, while each seed is sold at Tk100. “Right now, I earn a profit of around Tk 6 lakhs per month. And I hope that within the next 10 years, my garden can serve the demand of the whole country,” an ecstatic Badal states.
Young people like Badal are helping change the existing idea that agriculture is a last resort since it's a profession for lower income farmers. People are starting to look at agriculture as a profitable venture across Bangladesh.
Like Badal, 37-year-old Delwar Jahan, a Chittagong University graduate and a former journalist, also took up organic farming as a profession, along with his friends.
“Farmers in the country spend a lot on chemical fertilisers and pesticides. On top of that, they don't make much profit. Not only does that affect the environment but hurts them as well. My friends and I wanted to tackle these problems,” recalls Delwar.
“From 2013, we started our organic farming project on a leased land in a village at Manikganj, where we have grown organic vegetables and raised chickens, cows, fishes, and a lot more on our own. Whenever we faced any problems, we sought help from the local farmers,” he says.
“At first, they thought that we were crazy. Why would we get into farming despite having degrees? But as time progressed, they understood the value of organic farming through our crops and started taking interest as well,” adds Delwar.
"If someone creates an integrated farm, with livestock, fisheries, poultry, and crops, and if it can be maintained appropriately—for instance, if cow dung can be used as organic fertiliser and the leftover vegetables can be fed to the cow—it is possible to make profit,” he adds.
Around 20 lakh youngsters enter the job sector in Bangladesh every year; however, we don't have the number of jobs to match the demand. According to experts, the agriculture sector could help change that scenario.
According to media and agriculture development activist Shykh Seraj, youth living in urban areas are steadily gaining an interest in agriculture. “A large number of them believe that if they invest their talent, hard work, and money in agriculture, they will get a good return, because agriculture has become commercially viable today,” he adds.
According to Seraj, earlier, urban youth don't usually choose agro-based professions, because many of them wouldn't like to work in mud and water. Now, agriculture is more diverse and the pattern of it has also changed. “They can now grow crops in greenhouses, or under the shed,” he adds.
There are different organisations supporting such developments as well. For example, the Department of Youth Development (DYD) is providing training to youth who are interested to build a career in integrated agriculture. According to Masuda Akhand, deputy director at the DYD, a total of 2, 86,572 young men and women from different districts and more than 16 lakh youth from different upazilas have received training on integrated agriculture since its inception.
According to Masuda, the rate of employment is high among people who take training in agriculture and the department even provides loans to these trainees at a minimal interest rate. One can avail Tk 60,000 at a time.
Similarly, Palli Karma-Sahayak Foundation (PKSF) has provided loans to 2.2 million small and medium agricultural enterprises. Among them are three lakh young entrepreneurs, who are engaged in new varieties of agricultural products and crop production.
Seraj believes that if we make agriculture the centre of the country's main development system, and go forward accordingly, we can lead a content life. “Just imagine, if we had 500 top-class agro scientists, they could maintain the world's food system. Then, the entire business model would be agro-based—research, development, seed development, smart technology development; and people wouldn't neglect agriculture as a profession,” he says.