SDSN empowers youth to accelerate solutions in agri-food systems

Lauren Barredo and Giovanni Bruna – UNSDSN

Tomato Vine; Credit: Markus Spiske

The world is at a critical juncture and it is increasingly important to build resilience for improved future global food systems. Youth are an invaluable stakeholder in this mission. Dayo Aduroja has written, “Engaging youth in agriculture — an available, opportune and essential sector for growth — is critical to strengthening local food systems, feeding communities and providing gainful employment opportunities for the world’s booming youth population.” However, there are many challenges preventing youth from fully engaging in agriculture, including lack of training, lack of access to credit and capital, and a perception that agriculture is not a reliable or lucrative livelihood. In many countries, this has led to a disinterest in agriculture, rural to urban migration of young people, and aging of the farmer population.

In addition to tapping into young people’s energy and enthusiasm, we must harness their power and talent to achieve shared prosperity for humanity. A starting point is to facilitate spaces where youth can share experiences, insights, best practices, and calls to action. SDSN Youth was born to place young people at the forefront of achieving a sustainable planet for future generations. Today, SDSN Youth is one of the world’s biggest networks of young leaders working together to accelerate solutions towards the Sustainable Development Goals. One initiative, the Youth Solutions Report, annually features 50 game-changing projects led by young people, allowing them to display their work, and showcasing their work to potential supporters. In a similar fashion, the NextGen Ag Impact Network (NGIN) aims to empower youth in agriculture and related fields by offering them training and networking opportunities, linking them to funders and investors, raising awareness of their innovations, and including their voices in decision making spaces.

The SDG Academy, SDSN’s flagship education platform, creates and curates free, open education resources on sustainable development and offers them as a global public good. Courses cover a wide array of topics, but many are targeted at the next generation of agricultural leaders. Students can access the self-paced Feeding a Hungry Planet course, which features lectures and cases studies on food security, malnutrition, and restorative agriculture worldwide. Alternatively, they can enroll in Sustainable Food Systems: A Mediterranean Perspective, which includes discussions on the challenges and opportunities of the agricultural sector in the Mediterranean basin, an outline of the history and culture surrounding the Mediterranean diet, and emerging opportunities for innovation in the sector. Additionally, the SDG Academy Library houses over 80 pedagogical videos focused on SDG 2 (Zero Hunger) and food and nutrition more broadly.

The COVID-19 pandemic has laid bare many weaknesses in our institutions and systems, particularly in the food and agriculture sector, and compromised progress towards SDG 2. It has generated much attention on “digitalization” as a solution. Integrating technology and innovation to unlock opportunities is critical for the transformation needed in this sector, and may also be a way to make it more attractive to young people and improve rural livelihoods. Digitalization can also increase resilience to shocks, as well as reduce inefficiencies through greater equality of access to robust information. SDSN has disseminated case studies in digitalization from different national contexts and operating at different scales, as well equitable approaches needed to establish pathways to zero hunger.

Drone used for plant protection. Credit: DJI-Agras via Pixabay.

As Dario Piselli, Siamak Loni, Kayla Colyard, and Sienna Nordquist wrote in 2019, “Ultimately, however, harnessing youth skills for sustainable food systems will require significant efforts within countries, as barriers in access to land, credit and education are often the result of inadequate legal frameworks and insufficient domestic resource mobilization.” Therefore, transformational learning for sustainable development should consider the benefits of a youth-focused approach to agri-food systems development. Embracing new technological tools and resources in pedagogy, along with youth-led initiatives, are powerful actions to facilitate transformational learning methods for youth worldwide and contribute to sustainable food and agriculture.


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.

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


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