By Deston Pope and Keron Bascombe, Tech4Agri
“In today’s world, the words ‘vaccine’ and ‘economy’ including the phrases ‘digital transformation’ and ‘food security’ can be heard almost every day. And yet the greatest untapped resource, our youth, still struggle to enter and maintain a livelihood within the agricultural sector.” – Keron, Creator @Tech4Agri
A small island in recovery?
Reinvigorating an agricultural sector during a pandemic and within in an economy that has sustained itself on oil and gas for decades is definitely a challenge. Yet the call for agriculture to lead Trinidad and Tobago’s economy continues.
Prior to the pandemic our oil and gas energy-based economy was in the midst of failure, while our agriculture sector had been downsized with several sub-sector support programs and institutions being closed down. Island food systems are dependent on food imports, a fact that is reported every year throughout the region. With imports impacted by COVID-19, emphasis has been placed on the importance of enhancing the nation’s agriculture sector by stakeholders at all levels.
Agriculture stands among the few professions deemed ‘essential’ during this time and while the sector began to grow overall, the demand for food is high. Stifling this growth is the sector’s limited use of digital media or ICTs. All sectors have been forced to digitally transform, yet the application of this phrase is far easier said than done. From engaging with teachers who must now resort to online education we found a number of issues including limited access to digital devices, a poor overall mentality towards technology use, and a varying level of capability which ranged to alarming at extremes. These challenges and more have made the learning curve for technology adoption exceedingly longer.
Making ourselves resilient
Given the state of our economies in the region, the ongoing pandemic, and most importantly our one true basic need for food, our fields of agriculture and media are essential. Thus, we at Tech4Agri began focusing our business activities toward mobile media production which gives a more positive and powerful visual as to the importance of local agriculture.
In production is our new media series ‘Rise of Agriculture’, a 30-minute, 12-episode variety program centered on technology, youth, women, innovation and food production within our multifaceted agricultural sector. The series uses 360 video, drone journalism and mobile video as a dynamic form of storytelling on the people who are passionate enough to endure the harsh reality of the sector in Trinidad and Tobago.
More than a media series, it represents a partnership made up of businesses, NGOs and government affiliated entities as our project speaks to the essence of true collaboration and opportunity, in leading the way forward. Each episode provides digital and immersive stories centered on the lives of people of our agri- and agro-allied fields, who through their activities contribute to our food security and wellbeing.
The series, among others are currently in production, will continue to document our economic response to COVID19 and the changes in our food systems which we must all rely on. Tech4Agri is well poised with existing projects within the nexus of digital agriculture, which when paired with the profession of agri-journalism, can create new revenue streams that enable organizational stability while simultaneously empowering communities and vulnerable groups with much needed agri-knowledge.
We are open to equitable partnership to secure a mutually stable future. As such, Tech4Agri has taken the lead by partnering with the International Federation of Agricultural Journalists (IFAJ) and CAB International (CABI) Caribbean Office to ensure its production is at a global level, maintaining quality and credibility.
Over the last 10 years Tech4Agri has proven itself competent in our work yet we must still give great effort to keep operations going. As a youth-led organization we must create our own doors in order to be a part of the agri-food system.
It is the true opportunity for change from one that is import dependent to one that is self-sustaining providing our country food while bringing employment to ground level stakeholders, in particular youth. While covid realities has informed many that change is needed, the action itself seems to be out of reach. Our agri sector feels disorganized and unable to meet this important need, sentiments that are echoed by other stakeholders
Who’s leading the agri-food systems revolution?
Marcus Mycoo, an agronomist and stalwart of the sector explains: “There are so many gaps in the sector and unfortunately, the leading in technology advancement does not come from the leading institutions. They continually talk about good agricultural practices but at this point it is basic. Increasing yields in a shorter space of time is beyond basic and now you can talk about technology and closing gaps but that is all talk until things start happening that will progress the sector.”
With so many issues Mycoo noted that youth are not only forgotten but they are fed poor information. During our interview Mycoo draws reference to his experiences of engaging with young farmers who have been given poor technical skills such as applying rooting salts at planting, which is simple, but greatly improves crop yield in the long run among other maintenance practices. Through his engagement with youth in a multitude of learning spaces Mycoo observed that current infrastructures, systems, institutions and subsectors in place leaves little room for younger individuals who may be more capable to enter and expand the sector. At the least Mycoo has taken on youth through his business MAFAS Ltd which supplies inputs and consultancy services to the sector.
Food for thought and for tomorrow
What does the future hold for our small island food systems? The uncertainty is clear. Recently with the reopening of economies and resurgence and rapid spread of new variants, a lockdown can happen at any time. While our country remains on curfew, vaccination is encouraged and there is a general push for business-as-usual given the weight on the livelihoods of our population.
Will our youth and their potential contribution to our agri-food system ever be seen as a solution to some of our obstacles today? At Tech4Agri we will continue to strive to build the opportunities to give a definitive answer.
This blog is part of the GFAR Partners in Action series, celebrating the achievements of our diverse network of partners who are working together to shape a new, sustainable future for agriculture and food. Each month we will be showcasing stories related to a key theme in agri-food research and innovation. The theme for August is ‘Youth in agri-food systems’.
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