Vocational Psychology for Agriculture

As the human population continues to grow, the demand for food continues to outstrip the security of its supply.  This conundrum is not a problem of any single nation state; it is an international problem—a problem for humanity. Its importance is manifest in the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) as the eradication of extreme poverty and hunger. Despite halving the prevalence of extreme hunger since the inception of the MDGs, the rate of improvement is decelerating and more effort is required to maintain the downward trajectory of the prevalence of hunger (United Nations, 2014). Regular access to nutritious food is not just a problem of production and supply, as there are other causes such as conflict and corruption; however, sustainable and equitable production of food is a vital part of the solution.  ACCELL has the SDGs within its vision and aims to conduct R&D that is useful and, moreover, vital.

As a branch of applied psychology, vocational psychology has the scientific and professional capability to make a substantive contribution to agriculture. To that end, the three objectives of the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) succinctly capture the intent of the research agenda for the Vocational Psychology of Agriculture—Farming Food and Fibre (VPA—FFF) that is advanced by ACCELL:

  1. the eradication of hunger, food insecurity and malnutrition;
  2. the elimination of poverty and the driving forward of economic and social progress for all; and,
  3. the sustainable management and utilization of natural resources, including land, water, air, climate and genetic resources for the benefit of present and future generations (FAO, 2015).

Thus, the VPA—FFF is motivated by an ethical mandate to contribute to the social and emotional well-being of the world’s population.

Absence from the Field of Agriculture

In the paper titled “The Psychology of Farming: A Review of Twenty-five Years of Research”, Richards (1973, p. 485) lamented, “psychologists have largely ignored agriculture”. Nowadays this attitude is no different. Richards claimed

If all of mankind is to have an adequate diet, we must both stabilize world population and increase markedly world food supply. Moreover, attaining any such increase in food supply may be as much a problem in vocational psychology (e.g., the skill, knowledge, openness to change, and motivation of farmers) as in agricultural technology (p. 485).

There are rare examples of vocational psychology research appearing in the literatures of other disciplinary fields (e.g., agricultural education; Esters, 2007, 2008). Unfortunately, vocational psychology’s contribution to agriculture over the past four decades is  insignificant when contrasted against its contributions to other industries (e.g., education).

That vocational psychology is effectively absent from the field of agriculture is a two-fold loss: first, to the discipline itself, as, like all others, vocational psychology must demonstrate its relevance to society, and what better way than by enhancing an industry that provides the food and fibre of life; and, second, vocational psychology’s absence is a loss to the world of work that needs research and interventions directed to understanding the role of, and improving the quality of, work in people’s lives, particularly work that is relatively less prestigious (cf. Casper & Swanberg, 2011).

Contemporary agriculture is not the same industry of the 1960s and 1970s. Its levels of technological advancement and productivity are inconceivably different. In contrast, vocational psychology has not kept pace with agriculture’s scientific progress. An intensive program of psychological research is required to keep pace with agriculture.

Through the VPA-FFF agenda, vocational psychology can further demonstrate its relevance to society at large by contributing to the production of goods that meet basic human needs. Just as it once contributed solutions to the great social problems associated with the Western world’s transition from an agrarian to industrial society, writ large with notorious innovators such as Frank Parsons (Savickas & Baker, 2005), it is precisely at this historical juncture, at a time when the world needs talented labour in agriculture, that vocational psychology can make a significant contribution to society through its science and professional practices. The rationale for the VPA—FFF is unequivocal; vocational psychology can and should contribute to supporting humanity in a most fundamental way; that is, to support the production of food and clothing.  This agenda signals vocational psychology’s return to the field.


Casper, W. J., & Swanberg, J. E. (2011). Career and work concerns of diverse and understudied workers. Journal of Vocational Behavior, 79(3), 611-612. doi: http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.jvb.2011.05.006

Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations. (2015). About FAO.   Retrieved 18 March, 2015, from http://www.fao.org/about/en/

Richards Jr, J. M. (1973). The psychology of farming: A review of twenty-five years of research. Journal of Vocational Behavior, 3(4), 485-501. doi: http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/0001-8791(73)90060-2

Savickas, M. L., & Baker, D. R. (2005). The history of vocational psychology: Antecedents, origin, and early development. In M. L. Savickas & W. B. Walsh (Eds.), Handbook of Vocational Psychology (pp. 15-50). Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates.

United Nations. (2014). Millennium development goals report 2014  Retrieved from http://www.undp.org/content/dam/undp/library/MDG/english/UNDP_MDGReport_EN_2014Final1.pdf

This blog article is an extract from:

McIlveen, P. (2015). A research agenda for the vocational psychology of agriculture. Australian Journal of Career Development, 24(3), 157-165. doi: 10.1177/1038416215586005

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