Four young professionals; one passion: agriculture

07 Dec 2016 by Marina Cherbonnier

Alpha, Nawsheen and Josine at IFAD's headquarterThey travelled from different parts of the world to come tell their story at the International Fund For Agricultural Development (IFAD)’s headquarter. Josine, Alpha, Nawsheen and Rahul, are four passionate young agriculturists. Yet, their projects are completely different from each other. Meet these role models through a snapshot of their inspiring AgTalks:

The bug guy

Josine, is a YAPper : a Young Agripeneur from the Philippines. She invented a post-harvest mechanism that helps reduce crop waste. Her idea enables food safety for consumers, economic security for farmers and environmental health for all, through pest control. It is called the Mechanical Pest Removal System (MPReS). The machine operates on 3 simple principles: Mechanical. Organic. Manual. Remember: M.O.M! It is low cost, long lasting, easy to use, and it doesn’t use any chemicals; it works with heated air only.

It is a revolution in the Philippines where millions of tons of food are lost every year and where the use of chemicals brings severe health and environmental issues (chemical residue remains on crops and it builds up pest resistance). Many farmers are not aware of these problems and alternative low-cost pest control is currently wasteful.

“I had a simple and good idea, and the biggest obstacle in my way was…me.” Josine said to the audience. She added: “Here’s what I learned: innovations don’t have to be expensive, complicated, or even high-tech, to be effective.

  • What you first need is passion, and you need to know your craft. As a bug guy, everything I’ve poured into this project stems from being passionate about insects.
  • You need to have faith. I’ve met a lot of challenges along the way, from financial setbacks, to naysayers. I’ve learned to shrug it off, because I believe that my project can help farmers attain a better quality of life.
  • Lastly, you need a little bit of luck. Mine was a foreman called Sir Eugene who came up with the final design piece. Never be afraid to ask for help, because you’ll always be surprised where it can come from.”

Josine was happy to announce that they are now in the testing phase of the machine and they will soon move on to mass production. “The MPReS began as a small idea in my mind and now it has grown to include so many people from different walks of life.” She said. Also, Josine has received excellent feedback from farmers from rural Philippines on how her project could truly make a difference in their lives. Josine closed her speech by addressing to her fellow youths: she urged them to remember that “in agriculture, no idea can ever be too small to matter.”

Agriman, the Superhero

Alpha had never had a fairy tale dream of what he wanted to be when he grew up but he knew he would never become a farmer. He explained how much he hated agriculture as a kid - it was all about waking up early and working after school, while other kids were having fun. Also, he told that through media, agriculture in Trinidad brings two things to mind: problems and dirt.

Yet, as Alpha was struggling to find his way in life, one day, the dean asked him: “Why not try Agribusiness”. “I literally had to ask myself, what is Agribusiness? Agribusiness – Little did I know that this was the start of my life’s journey and my purpose”, Alpha explained. Alpha’s passion grew through farms’ visits at the university. Then he started to ask himself what he could do to help young people find their passion for agriculture at an early age.

He came up with an idea of making agriculture cool – #agriCOOLture through a non profit organization: WHYFARM, which means “We Help Youth Farm”. WHYFARM uses creative and innovative ways to capture Youth’s attention and show them that they can contribute towards food security. The idea of #agriCOOLture is derived from the kid story of Captain Planet. AGRIman was born as the “Captain Planet” of Agriculture.

AGRIman is a superhero: the World’s Most Powerful Food Provider, who goes to elementary schools throughout Trinidad and Tobago by conducting workshops using agriEduTainment tools. Theatre, music, poetry and spoken word are creatively used to spread the message. Students can join AGRIman fan club, have AGRIman birthday parties, discounted comics  and visits to AGRIman Fun and Food Park. Kids keep singing the Agriman song and Teachers request visits to his farm so that kids grow food with their Hero. Alpha conducted an AGRIman camp in March where the kids themselves came up with the most awesome name for the female version of AGRIman that you are soon to discover...

“The story of Agriman is my story, it’s my journey and it’s exactly what I needed as a child. AGRIman was born because of me wanting to give kids a chance and a shot at a passion that they can have for agriculture”. Alpha Sennon expressed.

The ICT4Ag peacemaker

"I have a dream. That of a peaceful world, where each person is happy and have reached their full potential. But there cannot be peace when people are poor and hungry. This is why I work in the agri-food sector. I want to contribute to the eradication of poverty and hunger.” This is how the humble Nawsheen started her highly inspiring speech.

Very early Nawsheen felt and understood she had to observe the agricultural sector and find a niche for herself. It is by working in the field that Nawsheen developed a passion for agriculture combined with the application of ICTs. Winning the 1st prize for an international youth in agriculture blog competition boosted her confidence and created the spark:

“We usually hear that “sky is the limit”, but I realised that there is no limit at all” she said. I felt like if I had an idea or if I wanted to do something, I could make it happen.”

After some years working in an international organization in Europe and despite the fact that she was happy with her job, Nawsheen felt she was losing touch with agriculture on the ground. After many years in the agricultural development sector, she realized that there is a need to showcase success stories of youth in agriculture to attract others – both for job creation and for food security:

“Since 2010, I've been attending conferences where we say that agriculture needs to be made more attractive. 5 years later, we’re still talking about it. I thought, who will do that, if not us?” She said

Nawsheen now lives and works in Burkina Faso, where she founded AgribusinessTV, the 1st youth in agriculture web TV in Africa. It is a web and mobile application which features short videos of 4-8 mins on young agricultural entrepreneurs in Africa. Through AgribusinessTV, Nawsheen and her team want to show the positive image of agriculture which is not often covered in the media and inspire young people to get involved in agriculture. They also want to show that agriculture is not just at production level and that those who are already into it are successful.

In 7 months, they produced over 35 videos from 10 countries, which got over 1.5 million views. Over 3,500 people have downloaded AgribusinessTV mobile application and their Facebook page has nearly 80,000 fans.

“Today, I think that all of it has been possible, because I have dared and took risks. I followed my heart and passion and did not settle with what I had. I wake up everyday knowing that I'm creating positive change for this world. There is nothing more fulfilling than that.” Nawsheen Hosenally uttered.

The culinary Chef

Rahul studied culinary art which he was passionate about. But as he was reflecting on his enthusiasm for food, he realised that he had to go to the roots of it to fundamentally understand the magic of cooking. The roots of it all are raw products and the way they are produced; the root of it is agriculture.

This led him to school garden activities in India to international agricultural development with its plethora of stakeholders: Rahul works and learns from chefs, producers and farmers. And the more he interacts with all these actors, the more  he wants to explore food’s role in the world of indigenous people, its linkages with culture, man and ecology. “Food is an expression of our identity and a product of landscapes” Rahul expressed.

This also leads him to focus on youth’s aspirations and the role the young generation plays in sustaining themselves and the world on a long term. Development agendas focus on tackling climate change challenges, for instance; Rahul brings us back to very pragmatic perspectives: “if food is climate smart and yet does not taste good, it won’t be eaten.” This is why it is so important to engage all stakeholders, from farm to fork, in Development agenda and actions.

Rahul wanted to be a chef and he fell in love with agriculture. Moreso, Today, Rahul explores the vast agenda of food as a pillar to sustainable development for our world.

Shine bright!

IFAD’s audience as well as online participants who were able to follow the webcast, live-tweeting and the social reporting on Facebook engaged fully with the young Ag.Speakers. Many young people like Hélène from Rwanda and Arsene from DRC voiced how inspiring these Youth Agtalks were and they thanked our role models for sharing their story. 

Borrowing Josine’s words, this AgTalk session incites all of us to “keep up with youth stories: the youth in agriculture have so much to offer. It’s time to shine a spotlight on them”. And indeed, the more we share these stories internationally, the more  we give the chance to inspiration, ideas, insights and expertise to travel and connect all around the world, for each “young champion-to-be” to unleash their creativity, talents and courage into concrete agricultural activities.