This year’s International Youth Day 2019 is themed around “Transforming education”, with a particular focus on how education can be made more inclusive and accessible, including efforts by youth themselves. But what does inclusive education look like when it comes to agriculture?
Few would disagree that agriculture has a perception problem. People think of it in terms of early starts, long hours, hard labor and limited rewards. This is a particular problem among young people, who simply don’t see agriculture as an attractive area to pursue a career in. The average age of a farmer around the world now hovers close to 60 years old.
Discussions on how to overcome this challenge were front and center at this year’s European Development Days. Taking about how to create opportunities for rural youth specifically, Paul Winters, Associate Vice-President of the Strategy and Knowledge Department at IFAD, expressed his belief that many young people in rural areas would prefer to remain working on food security close to home, if only it held more promise of future profitability.
Education can play an important role in shifting perceptions. UNICEF representative Juliana Lindsey noted that while there’s more to education than just what happens in the classroom, encouraging young people to consider business ownership and entrepreneurship should be part of the curriculum. At the same time, we also need to educate other stakeholders – from parents and teachers, to business investors and government officials – about the potential of agribusinesses. Leonard Mizzi from the European Commission’s Directorate General for International Cooperation and Development highlighted this as a particular priority for the development community, noting that many investors, including financial institutions, still see agriculture as too high-risk.
We must ensure that those seeking to scale up their agricultural endeavors have the right support. For Edward Kofi Anan Brown of the African Center for Economic Transformation this means providing tools and resources, a route into global supply chains, and support with capacity building. Most importantly, they need to be accompanied by trusted and true partners who can lift them up to become bankable for a wide range of investors and to further scale their business.
So what does this mean for young people in agriculture?
On the face of it, it may seem like youth in agriculture face a double challenge: seen as a high-risk because of their area of interest but also their youth and lack of experience. But if the Youth Ag Summit community is anything to go by, young people are skilled at turning challenges into opportunities.
In the last few months alone, we’ve heard about how Dutch Talash Huijbers (Netherlands) is turning fly feces into animal feed, how Indonesian alumnus Febri Aditya Gabe Sigiro is helping small grocery stores and food stalls get a fairer price, and how Kenyan alumna Risper Wanja Njagi has has become a role model in her small rural village. Risper is also one of the co-founders of AGRIKUA, which won seed funding at the last Youth Ag Summit thanks to its focus on promoting women’s online access to opportunities.
One of Risper’s co-founders and fellow YAS 2017 delegates, Sophie Healy Thow was also at European Development Days this year. Speaking on a panel discussion on how to tackle inequality, she called for international fora to be more welcoming of young people. Young people have plenty of value to add, she noted, but it can be intimidating to be surrounded by experts with years of knowledge and to feel comfortable sharing your experience.
Global institutions need to invest in agriculture. But they also need to trust young people. With the right guidance and support from more experienced and knowledgeable partners, and with the freedom to express their ideas, there’s no limit to what young people can achieve. We’ve seen this first-hand at the Youth Ag Summit and we saw the appetite for it at European Development Days. To feed 10 billion people by 2050, we must take risks – and bank on the next generation.