The need to find alternative rural livelihoods and its impact on economy

The Economic Survey of India 2018-19 speaks of shifting gears for ensuring economic growth. The focus has been to open several pathways so that macroeconomic growth and stability reach the bottom of the pyramid. The story at the other end who propel economic growth at the bottom of the pyramid is similar. Expanding livelihoods at the rural level has also become an urgent need. The bridging of the digital divide has brought with it increased aspirations. This need arose because of both demand and supply side factors. On the demand side, the youth are aspiring to get employed in offices and industries. On the supply side, agriculture the mainstay of income for the majority is no longer as dependable because of problems associated with climate change. Thus the urge to move out and engage in alternate livelihood is reasonable and evident. However, one must remember that with the global slowdown on one end and lack of employable skills on the other, majority of the rural aspirants would fail to get employed. Under such circumstances, a growing problem of voluntary unemployment is likely to arise in rural areas where the educated youth are unwilling to join the traditional livelihoods on one hand and unable to fetch jobs on the other. This problem would get further aggravated with Artificial Intelligence replacing a large amount of low skilled jobs.

Rural youth- dichotomy and mismatch of expectations(Illustration Courtesy- Shirish Ghatge, IDR online)

A strong sense of this feeling of haplessness was felt by the niiti consulting team that executed need assessment exercises in 100 villages across 10 districts in 8 states of India. While people in some villages like those in the Mewat region of Rajasthan had noticeably low expectations and aspirations of better livelihoods, the aspirations of people especially the youth in many villages that were closer to cities such as Barabanki in Uttar Pradesh, Chouttupal in Andhra Pradesh, Kollegal in Karnataka were high. They aspire to find employment in preferably white collar jobs. If not, they are ready to settle with no less than blue collared jobs. In reality, both these offerings were low for these youth barring a few exceptions. To prepare themselves for such jobs, the youth were found to be interested in computer based courses such as tally and animation, while the less educated wanted to learn driving which they hoped would get them handsome salaries as opposed to traditional vocational skills such as motor winding, carpentry, electrical repairing. It was clear from the discussions held with the youth (both boys and girls) that the changed demand was only to increase their employability opportunities in air conditioned offices or big factories in the vicinity. But the employability in the formal sector is shrinking fast. Under such eventualities, the dichotomy and mismatch of expectations is only likely to grow and lead to other problems of unproductivity arising out of psychological depression unless the problem is resolved very soon. One way of resolving this problem is to encourage the youth to become entrepreneurial and not only get productively engaged himself but also engage a few others in the enterprise. The Govt. of India is also encouraging self employment and enterprise development as is evident from the buzz words heard today such as ‘Start Up India’ and ‘Make in India’. Finally, a call out to those promoting livelihoods among the less privileged. Strengthening the existing traditional livelihoods through infusion of technology and knowhow to unshackle the problems associated with low productivity and profitability are inevitable. This coupled with some new avenues of entrepreneurship and self-employment seem to be the way forward.

Need Assessment by niiti consulting in Malkar village, Chouttupal district, Andhra Pradesh, India

Author- Dr Sudeshna Chatterjee, Ph D