“Come May, the coalition of 39 farms will launch a youth wing to help uproot the stereotype that farming is just about feeding animals and planting vegetables” (It Pays to ‘Get Fresh’, Farm Group Encourages Youth, Audrey Tan).
As well-intentioned as the initiative by the coalition Kranji Countryside Association (KCA) may be, to “launch a youth wing to help uproot the stereotype that farming is just about feeding animals and planting vegetables” (ST, Mar. 15), its effectiveness is limited not only by perceptions of the industry, but also by the aversion against blue-collared occupations and the corresponding unwillingness to get their hands dirty. With a diploma or degree in hand, why work so hard in exhausting circumstances which may not provide adequate remuneration?
It should come as no coincidence that two of the interviewed representatives of the KCA youth wing – 31-year-old Chelsea Wan and 26-year-old Liao Jun Jie – come from families with a background in farming. Their personal experiences complement their academic or business pursuits quite naturally. The lifestyle they speak of may be familiar to them, yet the barriers to entry are high for those who have never been engaged.
Rather than the mentorship programmes or internship stints at the farms, which will only appeal to a niche group of individuals, it may be more practical – for the time being – to highlight the market-rate salaries as well as the innovation and high-technology developments offered. The short-term programmes may galvanise interests or stir some curiosity, but vis-à-vis careers perceived to be more comfortable and secure the farm group must sell its careers pragmatically. References to lifestyles and interests can come later.
The KCA youth wing may be focused on promoting farmer careers for the time being, though in the long-term engaging more young Singaporeans to be cognisant of the local agricultural sector and its responsibilities would also create much-needed awareness.
A version of this article was published in The Straits Times.