This blog was written by: Rika Deligiannidou (Food and Agriculture Youth Institute/IAAS World) & Omar Farhate (Food and Agriculture Youth Institute/IAAS World)
Over 50 delegates from more than 30 countries came together in Bonn, Germany in the International Conference for Youth in Agriculture (ICYA) from March 10th, 2022, till March 13th, 2022. This conference was organized by the International Association of Students in Agricultural and Related Sciences (IAAS World) and it was a great chance to discuss cropping systems for the future among youth in agriculture and to empower them to play an active role in the enhancement of the food systems at the global and local levels. This was done through workshops, soft skill trainings, lectures, visits to research entities and companies operating the food and agriculture sector, poster presentations among other activities. The participants also came together to write a call to action on the cropping systems we wish for the future.
This call to action was a result of an online consultation sent to the online ICYA participants, followed by a world café during the first day of ICYA, then a workshop on the final day of ICYA where the calls to action have been recommended and in the end, a final session took place in order to review the draft call to action and to adopt it (54 participants adopted the call to action out of 54 total amount of participants). This process of drafting this call to action was facilitated by the newly created independent committee of IAAS which is called the Food and Agriculture Youth Institute, aiming at supporting the youth in agriculture and pushing for their engagement in the food systems policy space, debate, scientific research, capacity building and project implementation.
The process of writing the call to action that will follow in this document was the following:
2-World café: Setting the scene by listing the limitations of cropping systems at regional and global scales, and linking each limitation with a stakeholder group (farmers, consumers, companies along the food value chain, NGOs, governments, the scientific community, and the United Nations)
3-Workshop – Drafting the call to action: Participants were divided into groups of 4-6 people where each group recommended actions to implement for the enhancement of the cropping systems at the global scale. Each group had to focus on each stakeholder group every 5 minutes.
4-Inputs from the participants have been merged into the draft call to action. The document was revised and adopted by the ICYA participants (54 votes out of 54 people present and voting).
This call to action itself addresses the flaws of fundamental policies that our current cropping systems rely on, emphasizes the accountability of stakeholders, and proposes changes that will lay the foundation to switch to sustainable cropping systems of the future.
The United Nations must play a significant role in promoting agriculture as a key developing agenda in all its member states. This should be done while involving scientists in the policy making process and pushing countries to adopt enforceable mechanisms on current issues. Amongst all stakeholders, including governments, accountability and transparency must be ensured and applied and particularly enforced, for example by including ecocides as international crimes and part of the International Criminal Court. Along these lines, there should also be stronger implementation of supervision protocols on the application of agrochemicals globally and thus better knowledge transfer on agrochemical management from scientists to farmers. In general, citizen representation by engaging through civil society groups must be prioritized as well as increasing funding for new innovative ideas and research that will help reach the purposes stated above.
Amongst all stakeholders, including governments, accountability and transparency must be ensured and applied and particularly enforced, for example by including ecocides as international crimes and part of the International Criminal Court.
One of the first goals of Non-Governmental Organizations should be to support farmers and youth, focusing on community-based participation, through knowledge sharing, providing these groups with input, and involving them in different projects. They should always work for the farmers' benefit by lobbying multinational companies and governments and holding them accountable. This must always be supported by scientific evidence that will lead to executable policy plans. By upholding strong "Conflict of Interest Guidelines" and by keeping corporate money out of policy/advocacy, a dialogue facilitation between governments, industry, and farmers, where challenges are phrased toward talking about opportunities, may be viable.
Another crucial stakeholder who can change the course of events is the government from the local level to the national level moving to the federal or regional government. These stakeholders must raise more awareness about the challenges of the agricultural sector, especially amongst the youth and support and co-create programs that will bridge the gap between science and practice with the overall purpose of implementing agricultural programs that will lead to food sovereignty and incentivize soil health and ecosystem services. Additionally, the importance of providing help to smallholder farmers at all levels by designing more favorable policies due to the hard reality of the challenges that farmers face, by also reducing the administrative burden, or by advising them on marketing and enhancing their products' value. The action should also be on the big scene, where property rights, land tenure and water rights are reformed through a non-biased committee, based on input from all key stakeholders.
A key stakeholder that needs to remain unbiased always is the scientific community. By making research more accessible and understandable and even by conducting more applied research in collaboration with farmers, this will broaden the transdisciplinary connections and collaborations for a more holistic approach to the current challenges and strengthen outreach programs to farmers and the public. For universities and academia, it is important to create a constructive work environment and become more impact-oriented towards the farmers. At last, the scientific community should set high ethical standards and always dare to take a stand in politics and media.
Along the food chain there are companies that can also change the course of events. Their action is crucial regarding the establishment of fair living wage, salary transparency to close the gender pay gap and creating more work opportunities for youth. They must also ensure fair prices for farmers by changing the product requirements from the farm to food processors and retailers. Their spectrum of action is so wide, it also concerns the transition to a more sustainable way of work and can be enhanced by organizing campaigns that focus not only on profit making but rather allocate funds to innovative sustainable projects. On the social aspect of the issue, transparent reporting and the promotion of human rights is very much needed, as well as enhancing the global seed genetic diversity.
Responsibility also lies to the farmers, who especially need to include sustainability to the agricultural processes they apply. First and foremost, the promotion of local crop varieties and the focus on local trade will endorse food diversity and enhance the local market. At all times farmers should seek collaboration among each other and with scientists, by engaging in networks and interest groups, as well as by getting consultations by local agricultural advisers. In this manner, it will be possible to raise awareness regarding the environmental impacts of farming practices, seek for science-based applications and sustainable solutions. To conclude, all above are realistically applicable, if farmers are open-minded to discover new and sustainable technologies and practices, by seeking out market opportunities and government incentives and adopting them.
The last stakeholder this call to action focuses on are consumers and their behavior that needs to shift towards more sustainable actions. Consumers have the responsibility to inform themselves about the origin and production of their food and to choose local markets to do so. They must above all value the farmers' work and their social and financial challenges, by avoiding food waste and appreciating all food no matter its appearance. One more thing that should be placed as high priority among consumers is nutrition and diet diversification including limiting animal product consumption as well as the education of younger generations to do the same. At last, consumers should place collective efforts to take action to transform the current food systems and to hold companies accountable for the environmental impact of their products.
To sum up, immediate action from all parties that constitute the various links of the agricultural chain, must take place. Whether that is a stakeholder who holds great power over policies and decision making, or that it is an individual with great responsibility towards making agriculture more sustainable. Specifically, the United Nations, NGOs and Governments must act on a large scale, aiming to reform the current status quo of agricultural policies. The scientific community must be the leader of the decision-making process, supported strictly on the objective scientific data. At last, companies along the food chain, farmers and consumers owe to be informed regarding the best ways to act sustainably and adapt to the challenges the world is facing, whilst always being supported by the main decision makers. To conclude, action must be taken as soon as possible, to limit the damage already made and not perpetuate the same unfair to the people and unsustainable to the environment policies.