The future of agriculture depends on attracting young, talented people who are prepared to balance risk and reward in order to deliver the healthy food we need in a way that gives them sufficient return for their labor and capital.
Agriculture, however, is not seen as a profitable career: its expensive to finance, the necessary land capital is difficult to access, and young people are excluded from decision making. With an increasing number of youth shunning agriculture, the agricultural sector is losing a generation of potential innovators, inspiring visionaries, and transformational leaders.
But what if we could bridge this gap by mentoring and supporting a new generation of people prepared to proactively contribute to innovative and sustainable agricultural development? What if we could fuse agriculture and entrepreneurship to make young people have a business oriented mindset instead of the subsistence mindset? What if?
These were some of the questions that were in our mind after a survey indicated that 94 percent of YPARDs 15,000-strong membership wanted such opportunities. After a great diversity of mentoring models were studied in early 2015, YPARD decided that to understand how mentoring can best benefit its diverse global network, a number of different approaches to mentoring should be pilotednamely face to face, virtual, blended, and group/peer mentoring. These programs aim at unlocking the potential of hundreds of budding young agriculturalists by providing opportunities to engage and connecting them to senior agricultural professionals in business, research, extension services, and ICT.
Take for instance the case of Esther Ndichu from Kenya. With her mentor Nicholas Korirs support, not only did she begin greenhouse farming and break even on her first harvest, but she also propelled a major cultural shift in her community. Many neighboring farmers who had previously been unconvinced about modern farming methods watched her success and began to replicate her methods.
Additionally, senior professionals who serve as mentors are better equipped to support young people in agriculture and often learn new things and rediscover a passion for their own work. A broadening of horizons has enabled both young and senior professionals to become more innovative in their own work while implementing cross-disciplinary approaches.
Another instance is the case of Fredy from Peru and Robin from the USA who met at an event for mentoring program participants the day before the 2014 Global Landscapes Forum. Realizing they had many overlapping interests, Robins research team hired Fredy to assist with a project helping Peruvian farmers regenerate their plots. They have since published several research papers together.
By and large, ten consistent areas of improvement emerged across the mentoring models. Some of the insights drawn include:
The future of agriculture is not 60 years old. It is young. Very young indeed. There is a new generation of young professionals in agriculture moving to center stage with their ideas and ambition to become successful entrepreneurs, farmers, researchers, and policy makers. We all can chose to change the youth in agriculture narrative by believing in young people so that they can believe in others and become agents of change in their own circles.
And as one mentee put it: There are millions of young people out here, youth with big dreams but little opportunities and resources to realize these dreams. It is my dream that YPARD will reach out to more young people especially in developing nations, and help them unlock their potential.
This is our dream for youth in agriculture. What is yours?
This blogpost was originally featured on the Chicago Council on Global Affairs website.
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