Want to reinvent agriculture? Involve youth!

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Young farmer in Mali – What is agricultural innovation without youth?

It is 6:30 am. Johannesburg’s high-rise buildings stand far in the background, amidst the greenery, beautifully framed by the early African sun. This is the first sunrise I could enjoy in the last week at the Third Global Conference of Agricultural Research and Development (GCARD3).  It has been a very busy week, working 16-hour days every day.

I look down to the street below and notice many young people moving about. From the discussions I have heard all week, I can’t help but wonder about their future, and my future as a young person myself. Who will feed this growing population, this young population?

Hosted by the South African Research Council and co-organized by the Global Forum on Agricultural Research and CGIAR, the GCARD3 global event was an opportunity for interested parties to come together to confirm commitment to the new sustainable development agenda and to tackle topical issues emerging in agri-food research and innovation.

With a clear focus on critical issues such as food security, nutrition, climate change, women and youth in agriculture and agri-biodiversity, the event quickly gathered momentum. Discussions ranged from the new challenges posed by climate change and malnutrition, even as the old problems of underdevelopment, corruption, poor governance and hunger in Africa, stand as testament of our frailties. Yet, this was a new day, and a time for a new generation of ideas, thoughts and determinations to emerge.

In her keynote address Dr Lindiwe Majele Sibanda, CEO of FANRPAN, made a definitive point when she said, “We in Africa depend on agriculture and cannot afford a decline in our already compromised productivity”, Dr Sibanda said malnutrition and climate change are the two “wicked” problems that need to be addressed.

We need to think of smart ways to tackle climate change if we are to keep agriculture viable and avoid what seems to be a looming food crisis. Smallholder farmers produce 70% of the world’s food but often suffer most from extreme weather conditions and economic shocks, as their crops are the most susceptible to droughts, pests and diseases. These farmers are expected  not only to feed the world, but to produce nutritious foods.  With all these challenges is there a future for smallholder farmers?

Dr Frank Rijsberman, CEO of the CGIAR Consortium,  highlighted that it is vital for farmers, development agencies, governments and the scientific and agricultural sectors to come together and find innovative and sustainable solutions to the myriad of issues affecting agriculture.“We don’t have long to transform our food systems to become sustainable and provide healthy diets for all. We must step up our efforts in agri-food research and innovation”, Dr Rijsberman said.

One innovation of GCARD3 was that it offered a space for young people to express themselves. More than 140 youth took part in the discussions. Their mission was to be the voice of all youth. They participated in the discussions both online and onsite, providing their own input and describing youth-specific challenges and the opportunities they need to be active agents of change for agricultural development.

Jim Cano, a youth delegate and a keynote speaker at GCARD3, quoted former Secretary-General of the UN, Kofi Annan: “Young people should be at the forefront of global change and innovation. Empowered, they can be key agents for development and peace. Ensure young people have every opportunity to participate fully in the lives of their societies”.

Many youth also participated in a Social Media boot camp. The boot camp was aimed at equipping 75 participants with tools and skills to bring hundreds of thousands of agriculturally-minded people from around the world into the discussions.
I was one of the participants in the boot camp.  For three days, we learned how to use social media professionally. We attended classroom training during the day and continued to practice at night. We then applied what we learned during the conference. It was intense, fun, extremely informative – training like no other I have attended. To say I now feel empowered is an understatement.

We all know that figuring out how to feed the world’s fast growing population is becoming a global challenge.  How about if we took GCARD3’s lead and involve the younger generation in agricultural innovation. If we don’t involve them now, who will feed them in the years to come?

Those are my thoughts on this bright Johannesburg morning…

Blogpost by Anne Wachira #GCARD3 Social Reporter – A.Wachira(at)cgiar.org
Photo Credit: P.Casier/CCAFS

This post is part of the live coverage during the #GCARD3 Global Conference in Johannesburg, South Africa, 5-8 April 2016. This post is written by one of our social reporters, and represents the author’s views only.


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