How strengthening the rural segment can help reduce pollution

While the first few weeks of the coronavirus-induced lockdown last year led to a decrease in pollution levels, the long-term objective must be to ensure cleaner air for everyone — permanently.
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In the first few weeks of the lockdown being introduced in March last year, there were several reports of the air being cleaner and cities noting a reduction in pollution levels.

While this was a temporary situation that happened because most economic activities were being curtailed at that time, our long-term objective must be to ensure cleaner air is permanently available for all.

Skilling rural Youth

One of the more permanent ways of ensuring a cleaner environment is by reducing the pressure on our megacities. The cities are already bursting at their seams under the weight of their population. Migration from the villages towards urban centres is also adding to this situation compounded by growing levels of air, water, and ground pollution.

India has had a long history of migration. People in India have long been known for their attachment to the native locale and a lot has been researched on this. However, it is the lack of avenues in the villages that have for long propelled our youth to the cities.

Migration for jobs or perceived better opportunities has existed from times immemorial. But it can be addressed.

The answer to this lies in empowering our rural youth. Providing them with the right employment opportunities at the village level will ensure that the young blood of our country doesn’t have to follow the footsteps of the youth from the past who ended up in the cities.

Over a period of time, a steady increase in aspirations for white-collar jobs, and the local environment not being able to provide those jobs, has led rural youth to migrate to larger cities. Post migration, most youth end up spending a life only aspiring and trying to fulfil their life goals.

Youth who migrate to the cities for a better life have to compromise on decent living conditions and even basic hygiene as far as sanitation facility is concerned. The standard of city life has truly deteriorated for this segment of rural youth who migrate from their villages.

Mentoring excellence

Even as migration adds to the pressures on city infrastructure, the world over, air pollution is now considered the biggest environmental risk to mankind. The two — migration and pollution — go hand in hand and none of the big cities is spared of either.

Studies show that pollution of air, land, and water has grown to become the largest environmental cause of disease and premature death today. 

The influx of people looking for jobs and a ‘much better life’ are in many ways also contributing to pollution levels in our cities. The pandemic has further highlighted the need for continued action in addressing environmental pollution.

In the fight to curb pollution, equal opportunities for jobs have to be created in our rural areas on a war footing. These jobs and other entrepreneurial opportunities in rural areas need to be part of an integrated strategy that prevents migration alongside contributing to curbing pollution that our urban areas are grappling with.

Jobs in organic farming techniques and supplying clean vegetables and fruits to a city’s food supply chain can be one example of creating opportunities that will eventually help address the issue at hand.

Creating current and future skilling initiatives sustainable with long-term benefits of earnings matched with decent work is a formula that needs to be promoted through youth rural entrepreneurship programs. These steps can be in both agricultural and non-agricultural roles and keep the youth busy exploring what their own land has to offer.

To keep migration in check, we need to develop measures and methods that work best in extending the benefits of skilling to the greatest number of rural youths. Using technology to deliver these skills to rural youth will also help in introducing employment-oriented skills training in rural education institutes.

Two-pronged approach

To sum it up, I would back a two-pronged approach that focuses on traditionally strong rural sectors to skill rural youth. The first approach is to modernise and leverage opportunities arising from local resources. Here, we must look at integrated agriculture, diversified agriculture and allied industries like handloom, fisheries, animal husbandry etc.

The second approach is to simultaneously offer local employment-linked skills training in non-traditional industries like street vending, retail, e-commerce, finance, BPO, etc. to create entrepreneurs among our rural youth.

In doing this, there will be more local jobs created and employment avenues will be generated away from our cities and urban clusters. Over time the rural economy thus stands to be strengthened curtailing unnecessary migration leading to a decline in overall pollution levels that every major city in the country faces today.

Edited by Saheli Sen Gupta

(Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of YourStory.)