Youth in agrifood systems: more than the leaders of tomorrow

By Genna Tesdall, Director of Young Professionals for Agricultural Development (YPARD)

19-year-old Aisyah takes a break during her work day in West Kalimantan, Indonesia. Credit: CIFOR

Global food and agriculture is finally giving a focus to youth! As a network born 15 years ago out of the need for young agricultural professionals to come together and be heard in global agriculture, we at YPARD are delighted at this development. It has been much too long that youth were considered a stakeholder group which should be spoken about, but not included. But in reality, youth can be as old as 35 years, and are more accurately defined by their attitudes (open to change) and stage of life (education and early career), rather than a particular age limit. Thus, the constituency of youth are certainly capable of making decisions about our own futures. This perception is gaining traction in the global dialogue, and YPARD is helping shape that change. 

The importance of youth in the agrifood system

Why is YPARD engaging in advocacy for youth voices in global agrifood spaces? Because youth are crucial for changing and leading global food systems. However, despite the burden of solving countless global challenges within our lifetimes, youth still have a limited voice in international policy dialogues and the forces which shape our food systems, and are relegated to the leaders and voices of tomorrow, not today. Then, there is much head scratching in the agricultural sector: why don’t youth want to enter agriculture? We at YPARD answer with another question: when has anyone flocked to a sector in which they are unlikely to have opportunities for leadership? One of the six main challenges to youth involvement in agriculture is their limited voice in policy. It is known that rural youth are often disadvantaged in social dialogues, including their own representation, when operating in highly hierarchical social systems common in rural areas. If we are included, it is often as a token young face, but not with real decision-making power. Opportunities for leadership, education and access to information often become much more limited, especially as we are typically more vulnerable to socioeconomic stresses, although we are at a time in our lives where we are thirsty to learn, grow and engender change.

Networks like YPARD are serving this need, and supporting partners like GFAR are key to fulfilling our mission. YPARD is the only international agricultural network which focuses on youth even outside their time in formal educational institutions. YPARD is the freedom to launch a project because we have passion, and removes the prerequisite of years of practical experience. How does one ever get these years of practical experience if we are always too green and too young to start? Many of us are young professionals—experts in our own right. And when can we openly acknowledge that those with the most experience have exacerbated many social and environmental ills into crisis? Less experience in broken systems may let us break free of their faults.

Becoming a youth leader or youth ally

Trials of drought tolerant beans in Malawi. Credit: N.Palmer/CIAT

How can you be part of this positive change for youth in agrifood systems? If you identify as a young person, get involved in YPARD or another youth organization which you identify with. Simply get in touch with us through our website, sign up for our newsletter, or write us an email. The prerequisite for involvement is to be a young person interested in agrifood systems. You shape your involvement.

If you identify as a supporter of young people, YPARD welcomes your engagement! Partner with us or another an organization run by youth, for youth. And in your own organization, make sure young people are included in leadership and decision-making levels. Be sure your teams are funding projects for youth developed by youth—or in close consultation with youth. Live by the motto: never for us, without us! Acknowledge youth as leaders in their own right, leaders today (not tomorrow), with valid experiences and ways of working. GFAR for example has been a huge supporter of youth engagement by hosting YPARD for many years. GFAR includes YPARD as a partner and in their steering committee, and invited submissions on the topic of youth in agrifood systems for their blog; we are deeply grateful for the ongoing collaboration, as these are only a few ways in which GFAR partners with youth.

So if you want to see more youth in agriculture, lead alongside us! We welcome your partnership and look forward to striving for a better agrifood system together.

Genna Tesdall

Genna Tesdall (she/her) is an agriculture systems thinker taking on projects to sustain the environment and people, now as the incoming director of YPARD. She strives to be a servant-leader in order to foster equality between generations (and all delimiters of privilege).  Before joining YPARD, she was the federal agricultural policy officer at the German Rural Youth Association (Bund der Deutschen Landjugend) (2020). As a Fulbright Researcher at the Humboldt University of Berlin (2018-19), she focused on youth involvement agricultural policy, and was the former president (2013-14) of the International Association of Agriculture and Related Sciences Students (IAAS). She is a graduate of the global oriented Iowa State (2015) and Penn State Universities (2018) with a M.Sc. in Plant Pathology and International Agriculture and Development. Contact: genna.tesdall@ypard.net

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’.  

Join the conversation in the comments below or share this article on social media using #GFARinAction.


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