Editorial Notes

[Editorial Notes] Engaging Rural Youth Gainfully

India is the youngest country in the world with proportion of rural youth about 67% to 68% of the country’s total population. Given this overwhelming percentage of rural youth, any policy to advance the cause of youth needs to be rural centric to harness and realise their potential.
By IASToppers
March 27, 2020


  • Introduction
  • Definition of Youth
  • Engaging Rural Youth
  • Structure of Rural Economy
  • Rural Youth Development
  • Developing modern and appropriate technologies and innovations
  • Skilling of rural youth
  • Connecting the dots
  • Developing appropriate ecosystem for establishing rural enterprises
  • Conclusion

Engaging Rural Youth Gainfully

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India has a high proportion of youth in its population, especially that of rural youth. Harnessing their potential to contribute to the country’s growth would require rural-centric policies that combine the development of appropriate technologies and innovations, skilling of youth, and the creation of an ecosystem for the establishment of own enterprises.

Definition of Youth:

  • The United Nations referred youth as those in the age group of 15 to 24 years.
  • While the National Youth Policy of 2003 considered youth as those belonging to the age group of 13–35 years, the NYP 2014 redefined youth as those in the age group of 15–29 years (Ministry of Youth Affairs and Sports 2014).
  • In their report on “Youth in India 2017,” the Central Statistics Office (CSO 2017) defined the age group of 15–34 years as youth.

Engaging Rural Youth:

  • By the definition of NYP 2014, with 33.3 crore youth population in the 15–29 years age bracket (that is, 27.5% of the country’s population of 121.1 crore), India is the youngest country in the world.
  • The proportion of rural youth is about 67% to 68% of the country’s total population.
  • The male rural youth remained at about 52% of the total rural youth population.
  • Given this overwhelming percentage of rural youth, any policy to advance the cause of youth needs to be rural centric to harness and realise their potential and contribute to the country’s growth.

Structure of Rural Economy:

  • According to the data provided by the CSO for the base year 2011–12, the rural sector accounted for about 94% of the country’s farm income in 2011–12, that is, income originating from crop, forestry, fishing and livestock-related activities.
  • Further, the rural sector contributed about 36% of the country’s non-farm income.
  • The farm sector has been losing its significance with the sector’s contribution to rural income falling from 72.4% in 1970–71 to 39% in 2011–12.
  • Even though the farm sector continues to be an important sector, within it, there is also a shift from traditional food grain production to horticulture and dairy.
  • Cultivation activity contributed only 35% of the total income of the agricultural households.
  • It reflects the changing structure of the country’s rural economy and challenges policymakers to maintain the tempo of non-farm activities in rural areas.
  • The shift away from the traditional reliance on farm activities to non-farm activities in the rural areas has been accompanied by the rising literacy rate.
  • Literacy rate in rural India has considerably improved from 44.7% in 1991 to 68.9% in 2011; that is, more than two-thirds of the rural population are literate now.
  • Diversification of economic activities coupled with the rising literacy rate provides ample opportunities for diversifying the talents of youth.

Rural Youth Development:

  • There is a need to create a suitable environment to develop opportunities for employment of the rural youth. It includes three important steps:
  • Development of modern and appropriate technologies and innovations that have the potential for large-scale adoption in rural areas;
  • Skilling of rural youth to make them capable of adopting those modern technologies;
  • Development of an appropriate ecosystem in the rural areas so that the skilled youth are encouraged to establish own enterprises.

Developing modern and appropriate technologies and innovations:

  • Although, agriculture is not seen as a remunerative occupation, through advances in innovation, capacity-building, partnership and participatory approaches, better market linkages and by developing a synergy with other sectors of the economy, many employment and entrepreneurial opportunities can be created.
  • There exists a huge opportunity in rural areas for the growth of off-farm sector activities.

Example: Opportunities are emerging in agri-tech, agri-based e-commerce, information technology (IT)-linked agri-extension, seed technology, biotechnology, farm monitoring, agri/rural fin-tech, and so on, enabling the educated rural youth to explore new ideas, undertake research and establish start-ups.

  • There are also opportunities emerging from the modern practices of farming, other rural activities, use of the drone to detect problems in crop fields/orchards etc.
  • The idea of harvesting solar energy as the third crop on the farmer’s field is also gaining ground.
  • Mobile infrastructures such as biorefineries/phyto-refineries can be developed to provide processing support.
  • There is a need to facilitate the integration of agricultural research, industrial research and biotechnological research.
  • Efforts are also needed in finding innovation/technology-based solutions to some of the basic problems relating to agriculture:
  • Development of smart agricultural machinery;
  • Developing apparatus such as censors to encourage precision agriculture to apply need-based fertiliser and micro-nutrients; and
  •  Finding solutions to the overuse of water.

Skilling of rural youth:

  • Human capital is vital for fostering the growth of the economy and more so of the rural economy.
  • The need to focus on skill development follows directly from the need for improving employment opportunities.
  • National Skill Development Policy estimates that only 5.4% of the workforce in India has undergone formal training.
  • The percentage of rural youth (that is, 15–29 years age group) who did not receive vocational training of any sort stood at 90.3% in 2011–12 and this went up to 93.7% in 2017–18.
  • Although formal vocational training can be considered as a sure gateway to the job market, the employability of the trained ones remains poor because of the low quality of vocational training imparted.
  • The rural youth lack “soft skills,” such as the ability to experiment with new ideas, spot business opportunities, sales and marketing skill etc.
  • The thrust on the skill development of rural youth should be capability-based, and the focus should go beyond agricultural occupations and traditional courses.

Connecting the dots:

  • It is important to understand how relevant the training is to the needs, identify the gaps and make concerted efforts to fill the identified gaps.
  • The quality of training at industrial training institutes needs to be strengthened by redesigning the curriculum and upgrading them through appropriate budgetary allocations under the National Skill Development Fund.
  • It is equally important to strengthen the institute–industry interface.
  • Rural youth should be trained to acquire different soft skills including basic English language skills.
  • Skill development initiatives need to be compatible with programmes and policies directed towards making a “Digital India.”

Developing appropriate ecosystem for establishing rural enterprises:

  • Skills acquired need to be linked to their engagement in some livelihood option. This requires a responsive entrepreneurial ecosystem that identifies their talent and absorbs them in an economic activity.
  • Agriculture graduates from the Indian Council of Agricultural Research system or state agricultural universities may be engaged in agri-related rural entrepreneurships.
  • Establishing fellowship programmes in different fields of agriculture may bring back youth with a farming background to the field and related agribusinesses, and in agriculture-related research and development.
  • The possibility to make the Krishi Vigyan Kendras a hub of all the technology solutions developed by different missions, departments of various institutions like the ICAR, Council of Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR) and private sector players can be explored.
  • The Citizen Service Centres (CSCs) may be designed to play the role of purveyors of taking the latest advances in production and post-harvest system to the field. Youth can be trained on various IT platforms to run these CSCs.
  • An important aspect for enterprise creation is funding support, particularly equity funding, which is critical to ensure the success of any enterprise.
  • Provision can be made to encourage deployment of the corporate social responsibility (CSR) funds as seed fund for these ventures.


Engaging rural youth gainfully should become an integral part of growth stimulating policies. Productively engaging the rural youth would help reduce the asymmetries in several socio-economic indicators between rural and urban areas, which have come to characterise the recent growth experience of the Indian economy. Thus, the efforts towards bridging the rural–urban divide should evolve around the idea of engaging the rural youth in productive activities.

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