Opinion: Youth farming and research

Opinion: Youth farming and research

By
20 March 2011

Young professionals need to be engaged in shaping the future of agriculture, says Courtney Paisley, at YPARD. The first step in attracting future young professionals is nurturing the ones we have now. Furthermore, we need to provide more young role models for future agriculturalists to look up to and so change their perceptions of agriculture.

young professionals need to be engaged in shaping the future of agriculture

Whether we look at rural farming and extension work, or at international agricultural research, we see an “ageing” global agricultural system, with an increasing lack of interest among young people across the globe in pursuing agriculture-related careers.

This is further compounded by an agricultural research system which has a limited capacity for engaging young professionals in dialogues that address critical development issues. Thus, as there is minimal input from youths into the system, there is less innovation in developing programmes that are of relevance to young professionals.

This further reduces interest among young people to enter the agricultural research for development field. While this problem is well documented, the plausible strategies for addressing it are not. Youth inclusivity in the system remains an unsolved problem, made more critical by the fact that the changes that we manage to implement today will not produce results for decades to come. But we must address it, and in doing so we must ensure that youth, the key stakeholders in this process, are involved.

The first step in attracting future young professionals is nurturing the ones we have now. This can be done through a variety of means, including focusing our capacity building opportunities on younger professionals, or ensuring that there is real youth representation in key debates over agricultural research for development debates. Similarly, creating opportunities for and fostering innovation among young people, or creating a sustainable mentoring system for the youth and providing networking opportunities among youth, especially between disciplines.

Furthermore, we need to provide more young role models for future agriculturalists to look up to and so change their perceptions of agriculture. Changing perceptions requires changes in the system itself, but we can start by highlighting a “new” agriculture like one that makes use of ICTs, for example, to show how agriculture is also a progressive field. We can also make further efforts to demonstrate the links that agriculture has with those subjects that do attract young people, such as climate change, environmental sustainability and organic farming. Agriculture must make clear its linkages with both the business and the environmental spheres.

This challenge is one of the reasons for the creation of YPARD – the Young Professionals’ Platform for Agricultural Research for Development. YPARD works with organisations to develop tangible means of ensuring that agricultural research for development is more inclusive of youth, mainstreaming them in programmes and giving them the opportunity to develop professionally. Only when young professionals are actively engaged in shaping the sector’s future will we be able to work towards a responsible agriculture that is able to meet global needs without depleting its resources.

Text: Courtney Paisley

Courtney Paisley is the YPARD co-ordinator. Readers are invited to register as a member of YPARD at www.ypard.net or contact her for more information at courtney.paisley@ypard.net