Youth, Agriculture, Food and (sustainable) Development- The ‘2016’ agenda

01 Aug 2016 by Nidhi Nagabhatla

At the occasion of YPARD 10 years, Nidhi Nagabhatla  the Chair, YPARD-Steering Committee and an officer at United Nations University- Institute for Water, Environment and Health (UNU-INWEH), Canada shares with us the ‘2016’ agenda where she envisions the youth, agriculture and food contributing towards sustainable development.

We live in a connected world. This is as real as the internet facility in our pockets and mobile phones in our hands. The theory of connectivity is dominating the tactical plans for sustainable development in all sectors, including agriculture and food production. 

Moreover, to my experience, youth is as critical as themes like ‘gender’ and ‘equity’, in the collective development agenda that makes up the solutions for implementing sustainable development. Several challenges though remain in realizing this connectivity. Among these include factoring the voice of young professionals’ in development  related dialogues, increased youth’s access to data, information and opportunities relevant to development agenda implementation, greater awareness and capacity to lead the theory of change andchange to existing dichotomy of youth exclusion/inclusion among others. Thus, the development of capacity of the youth on crucial development issues is pertinent to connect them with Youth Partnership for the (Sustainable) Development Goals. It is interesting to note that the United Nations is giving due attention to thisneed; remember the World Youth Skills Day-July 15 where the UN Secretary-General, Ban Ki-moon emphasized the need to strengthen our resolve to invest more in empowering young people.

At YPARD, our agenda of mainstreaming youth development in agriculture is clear and straight. YPARD brings voice and confidence to the youth who are yet not often involved in setting the agricultural development agenda. Around 2 billion young people (10-24 years) populate the globe, mainlyin developing countries, calling for dedicated and focused efforts (& policies) to strengthen their capacity and skills. But, reality is different. There’s no clear or universal policy on youth, and there are only few networks that tackle the issues impacting their future. Dialogue around the Future of Food reflects on technology, demand and supply,not evenly considering what young professionals feel about working in agriculture. Amongst the utmost issues facing most countries today is insufficient investment in building skilled human capital and tackling great rates of unemployment among youth. YPARD, as a network by the youth, for the youth, is leading the change we want to see, and in line with that, let me share how this all started for me.

Down the memory lane…

It was the early winter of 2011 when I got connected with YPARD and soon thereafter attended the CGIAR Science Forum 2011, October in Beijing. I met incredible young scholars from various countries - Netherlands, China, India, Uganda, Bangladesh, Argentina, Ethiopia, Kenya and more.  I have fond memories from Beijing were we YPARD’ians bonded as friends – tied by a common passion: “Let’s give Agriculture a positive image, where attractive agriculture auto-translates into healthy food, healthy people and healthy planet.’’ 

Connected by the common string of interest in agriculture and food production science, we discussed on thematic topics - more than that about gaps and needs in mainstreaming youth in agricultural development debates.How to ensure that young scholars can climb those few steps to the stage, from passive audience to  active contributors for strengthening a supporting youth agenda? It gives me immense pleasure to write confidently that the YPARD team and community has not done that once, but several times and is continuing to do so. Active involvement of youth in the CGIAR Science Forum of 2011 was rather passive, as was the case in many other high level strategic gatherings that talk about food, agriculture and the future of food. I see that the situation has been changing for the good in the past years, a lot due to the hard work and persistence of YPARD family and friends. 

Since 2011, my involvement with YPARD has remained incessant and active as the steering committee member, vice chair and chair. I am delighted to have witnessed massive growth of the network from 500 in 2006 to 1,350 in 2009 to currently 12,800 members, who share the passion and work tirelessly to support and implement the united agenda for ‘youth and agriculture development’. So happy to have walked the talk together; thank you YPARD!

The Journey Continues …

YPARD is steadily moving on to the next level, implementing the agenda to mainstream youth in the development debate. We have concrete examples to support this argument. Through several activities and programs in 2015 alone, more than 1000 YPARD representatives developed their technical and management capacity through targeted webinars and trainings. I’m particularly impressed by YPARD’s effort towards significant presence of youth at strategic development conferences as key speakers and change leaders. The mentoring program also deserves a special mention, with a blended approach i.e. online and face to face. Huge effort is made to turn the tide in favor of the youth as it engages in preparation of a youth strategy in partnership CGIAR Dryland Systems research program (tune to the Annual report 2015, to learn what we have achieved as a group). Besides creating a virtual platform for sharing and networking, YPARD has initiated a set of activities to help develop the skills of young scholars and professionals related to the agriculture and food sector, information on job search techniques and opportunities – preparing them as confident individuals in the job market. As a steering committee, mandated with the task to oversee YPARD’s goal and strategic plan implementation, we are assured that YPARD is handling the youth agenda with tactical vision and concrete action.

Let us all also be aware that YPARD has worked with limited human and financial capacity, yet managed successfully to develop and maintain such a large network and a comprehensive knowledge exchange platform. The perfect setting for me is that once we have identified the problems and documented good practices of youth involvement in the agricultures sector through our various interventions in the last ten years, the policy options must be selected with the participation and commitment of related agencies, actors and stakeholders. Most and more platforms have started to talk on youth participation in the development dialogue with some  calling it  the indicative of a kind of ‘youth spring’–the scenario is  promising as the narrative is slowly shifting from young people as passive participants to active leaders. Let’s all help YPARD continue this journey as we have aimed to not leave the youth behind.

Onward…

We are training our youth, employing them, yet many a times stakeholders forget (or neglect) to involve them in issues that are directly relevant to their future –this mindset or outlook needs to change, rather quickly. YPARD members need to be proactive, strong and coordinated to ensure that there are no development options without youth involvement – in the agriculture sector or beyond. 

It is fair to acknowledge that slowly and gradually, the youth agenda is getting the consideration and attention- this was largely missing in forum talking about development 10 years ago. As a network with a world wide spread, YPARD could be regarded as a leader in making and steering the youth agenda in global, regional and national fora. Our 4 regional and 61 national representatives deserve a special mention, as do the overall executive leadership of YPARD - our central coordination unit in Rome and my colleagues in the steering committee. However, the work is far from done: if you ask someone to describe policy, people in one word they often will reply with either ‘old’ or ‘mature’. No matter what part of the world youth is left behind when policy decisions are made and this issue remains to be fixed. The good news is that we have now more than 13000 YPARDians (registered on the website) - with far more followers on social media - who will shout this agenda and possibly get it fixed soon - did u hear that folks - I’m making this claim on behalf of all of us.

YPARD is maturing. In 2016, we jointly celebrate 10 years of hard-won success as a networking platform for young professionals for agricultural development. Going forward, we need all our members to continue participating in getting involved in agricultural development issues in their region or country, to openly  debate and discuss their issues with their fellow members and partners across the world and identify solution and skills from each other’s experience. That said, I may only have a slight idea of the capacity and competence available from the big YPARD community or even the scope of their knowledge – I reckon it is beyond the words and number to capture, however, I’m certain collectively we can solve the issues in the Youth, Agriculture, Food and (sustainable) Development agenda. With a joint vision we share as YPARD members, in my opinion, we can serve as a combined force to steer the youth agenda in the development debates. We’ll remain committed to with what we are doing -‘helping youth in agriculture to acquire skills needed to contribute to productive and sustainable food economy and revitalizing the image of employment in the agriculture sector’.
 

Celebrate YPARD 10 years with us; stay tuned at www.ypard.net/10years