I was invited to contribute through a guest commentary for the Chicago Councils Global Food for Thought Blog on the importance of engaging/investing in youth in agriculture sector to alleviate hunger and poverty, given my experiences with YPARD.
The Global Food for Thought blog indeed provides a platform for expert commentary on international agriculture and food issues. This year, the Council developed a special series on emerging hot topics authored by leaders in the policy, business, civil society, and academic communities. One of the series centers on the importance of investing in youth in agriculture. This series is running now.
My Commentary - Engaging youth in agriculture. Investing in our future.
With an expected population of 9 billion by 2050 and declining interest of youth worldwide to remain in rural areas and take up agriculture, who will feed this growing population? Youth make up about one fifth of the population of developing and emerging economies and face global unemployment levels from 10-28%. The number of young people of working age is increasing while this same group continues to shy away from careers in agriculture.
Agriculture has an image problem. There is a decreasing interest among youth in entering agricultural related fields due to the persistent perception of agriculture as an outdated field with minimal financial returns. But it remains true that youth face large challenges accessing land and finance without collateral.
The average age of a farmer is 52 in Brazil, 57 in the USA and 60 in Africa. Many agricultural research institutions have a disproportionately large number of staff close to retirement age. This shortsightedness is impacting the sector now, with increasingly fewer qualified mentors to pass on knowledge and skills to the new generation, which will only get worse.
While the lack of youth in agriculture is well documented, plausible strategies for addressing the issue are not. Youth inclusivity, while recognized as important tends to become a side issue, with experts preferring to look at mainstreaming options instead of tackling the issue head on. But we must recognize it for what it is: a critical threat to future food security that must be addressed now. And in addressing it, we must ensure that youth, the key stakeholders in this process, are involved.
The Young Professionals Platform for Agricultural Research for Development (YPARD) has been working on these issues for many years, bringing the voice of youth to the table, providing information on opportunities in agricultural development, sharing success stories of young role models in agriculture and advocating for greater youth engagement and representation. Some areas of intervention include tackling policy, attracting youth to agriculture and education.
Policy: To create an enabling environment for youth to enter into the agricultural sector, a supportive policy environment focused on youth is required. Access to land and finance is a barrier for many, which is essential for farming and agricultural entrepreneurship. Youth specific policies as well as providing a space for youth to engage in policy discussions are required.
Youth inclusion in the development of policy on an organizational level is also important and can be facilitated through youth representation and/or advisors on boards, steering and/or executive committees.
Attracting Youth: Agriculture is not featured promintnely in the media and is rarely glamorous when it is. Working with the media to provide more interesting portrayals of agricultural careers is important, as is working with ICTs and social media to reach a broader audience. YPARD takes advantage of an increasingly ICT savvy young generation to share opportunities and disseminate information on agricultural development. Many of YPARDs members have also expressed their preference for integrating their passion for ICTs with agriculture, taking a more modern approach to a traditional field.
Education: The skills and competencies of agricultural graduates do not meet the needs of todays agricultural sector. Curriculum reform in tertiary level agricultural education is required to meet the demands of the labour sector, with particular attention to agribusiness and entrepreneurship, where many youth demonstrate an interest. Youth require a range of skills and competencies beyond their technical discipline, particularly those soft skills such as communication, leadership and business skills. Reform of the agricultural curriculum must be a fully inclusive process which involves a wide range of stakeholders including youth.
With high unemployment rates globally and the lack of interest in traditional agricultural pursuits, a greater focus on entrepreneurship in agriculture is emerging. Entrepreneurship has the potential to contribute to the rejuvenation of the industry, creating more employment opportunities, increasing the potential for profit and moving away from the perception of agriculture as a low prestige career.
A responsible agriculture, meeting global food security needs without depleting its resources, can only become a reality if young professionals are actively engaged in shaping the sectors future.
Courtney Paisley is the Global Coordinator of the YPARD. YPARD is a global platform where young professionals voice their views, exchange perspectives and to contribute to sustainably improved livelihoods, worldwide, through a dynamic agricultural research for development. Originally from Canada, Courtney has worked on agricultural development issues in East Africa and currently resides in Rome. For more information on YPARD, or to register visit www.ypard.net
 ILO 2012 youth unemployment rates. From 9.5% in East Asia to 27.5% in North Africa  Confederação Nacional de Agricultura" (CNA, 2001)  USDA 2007 census  UN FAO
The Chicago Council on Global Affairs Global Agricultural Development Initiative (GADI) is led by co-chairs Catherine Bertini, former executive director of the U.N. World Food Program, and Dan Glickman, former U.S. Secretary of Agriculture.
Recent commentators include: Sir Gordon Conway (Professor, Imperial College), Tom Arnold (CEO, Concern Worldwide), Ertharin Cousin (Executive Director, World Food Programme), Kanayo F. Kwanze (President, IFAD), Ambassador Kenneth Quinn (President, World Food Prize Foundation), Shenggen Fan (President, IFPRI), David Beckmann (President, Bread for the World), Howarth Bouis (Director, Harvest Plus), and Paul Schickler (President, DuPont Pioneer).