In 2016 YPARD is celebrating ten years since its official launch at the GFAR Triennial meeting in New Delhi, November 2006. It was born from the challenges facing young professionals in agricultural development and the need for a support structure. This year is the occasion to celebrate YPARD’s 10 year achievements and reaffirm our focus on supporting youth in today’s fast-paced, changing environment. A series of YPARD online and onsite events (campaigns, meetings, series of testimonials etc) will take place throughout the year, within our community and with partners.
The 2016 Celebratory Blog Series will include a monthly blog contribution from partners, supporters, members, representatives and other special guests to talk about YPARD, what it has done for them and where they want it to go. To kick off 2016, let’s look at how far we’ve come and what YPARD is doing for youth in the agricultural development sector.
10 years of achievement and learning
A growing, vibrant online and on the ground network: Since its inception, YPARD has grown rapidly, demonstrating the need and value that young professionals see in a youth focused network. Today we have four regional coordination units, for Africa, Asia and the Pacific, Europe and Latin America and the Caribbean. YPARD national representatives are making waves in their countries, mobilizing youth in agriculture, focusing action on specific issues and making their voices heard. YPARD membership is spread across the globe with 11 581 registered members, from 187 countries.
These numbers belie the ripple effect of messages shared through social media, which has quickly become the primary vehicle for information sharing and dissemination. For example, in Bangladesh we have 194 registered members on the website but over 1510 YPARD Bangladesh Facebook members. The Nigeria Facebook group alone has 14,300 members.
While the numbers on social media are impressive, they miss out on many rural youth who cannot easily get online who we must continue to make an effort to reach. In Sri Lanka, where many young farmers are often not online, the YPARD representative brings them printed copies of the YPARD newsletter. In Armenia, the message is spread through local networks. We must not take it for granted that all young people are online and purely online approaches miss out on too many rural youth and thus too much potential and opportunity.
Tackling Youth Unemployment: High youth unemployment in many countries has raised the attention and sense of urgency among policymakers. We are working to turn this challenge into an opportunity, as a ‘demographic dividend’. The Arab Spring, in particular, has demonstrated the changes that motivated youth can bring about. YPARD supports local youth-led initiatives; enabling youth to identify topics of concern and respond to the challenges with locally identified solutions. A YPARD Mediterranean group grew out of the GFAR Mediterranean dialogues, to look specifically at issues facing that region and how young people can organize themselves to tackle challenges and create momentum in the agricultural sector. Funds are slowly making their way forth for the creation of youth employment in agriculture but collaborative action remains limited.
Boosting entrepreneurship through mentorship: Entrepreneurship is one solution for job creation. YPARD has used mentorship as a means of supporting budding entrepreneurs with very impressive results thus far. We are piloting face to face, purely online and blended (conference) mentoring to see what works best for YPARD members. The effectiveness of these approaches will be assessed and the most effective method scaled up, with the support of our partners. We recognize that not all young people are entrepreneurs. Our mentoring program also supports other areas of work (in policy, research etc) where young people play a crucial role in agriculture.
Youth input into policy debates and discussions: Increasingly more youth are being invited to provide input on national, regional and global levels. YPARD’s role in partnership with IFSA, GAEA and with support from CIFOR on the youth in landscapes initiative at the Global Landscapes Forum has created a dynamic and innovative youth led program, which strengthens its approach annually, for capacity development of young professionals and truly engaging methods for youth input into discussions. We still have further to go, as youth attendance at conferences still requires justification. Youth support in social media is one route, but getting involvement in the main sessions is where we require stronger support from partners.
While there is always something new, common themes have emerged from youth input in conferences and e-discussions, over the last ten years. These include: access to finance for youth, the need to change negative perception of agriculture/landscapes, reform of the education system and access to capacity development for young professionals. A more detailed analysis can be found in the GLFCOP19 Youth e-discussions report.
Advising on youth strategies: Increasingly organizations are assessing their approach to incorporating, working with and planning for youth engagement in agriculture. While not yet at the same level as gender, youth strategies are becoming more common and much can be learned from the experience of integrating gender. At the same time we know that gender and youth cannot be lumped together as approaches and that youth are not a homogenous group. We need more information and thus more age-disaggregated research. One strong youth strategy that YPARD has contributed to is the CGIAR Research Program on Dryland Systems Youth strategy.
Increasing the attractiveness of agriculture: Frequently debated and often voiced in the terms of how to make agriculture ‘sexy or cool’, many point to improving the status of agriculture, changing perceptions and bringing role models into the spotlight. We also recognize that profitability remains at heart, and generating good incomes is the start to changing perceptions. YPARD has developed a series of role models over the years, as part of the showcase: “portraits of young professionals in agricultural development”. Young farmers, researchers as well as young policy analysts, etc tell their success stories in agriculture, to inform and inspire their peers on the range of opportunities in the sector.
Where do we go from here?
How are we investing in young people? Are we actually investing in young people and are institutions adopting the focus they need?
From the lively Global Landscapes Forum that includes dragons den type to an active role in broadcasting young women’s voices in the Gender and Agriculture Partnership (GAP), to career fairs and discussions on educational development, the breadth of activities that YPARD is engaged in mirrors the complexity of the youth in agriculture sector. But this is a small fraction of what is needed. We need many partners to come together to create systematic approaches to these problems. We need more youth targeted funding for youth programs and youth led solutions. We need context specific responses and in all of this, we need youth as part of this planning and implementing, leading the response. Let’s celebrate what’s been done in the last ten years, but let’s use this to look to the future and see what we can do together.
We wish you a happy new year and we are looking forward to celebrating and working with you all in 2016!