Although young people make up roughly a quarter of the international workforce, many shy away from careers in farming. But the Global Forum on Agricultural Research (GFAR) is working to encourage youth across the globe to get involved with farming, agricultural research, and food systems development.
“The biggest challenges ‘to feed the world’ in the near future might not only be solved by helping farmers adapt to shifting weather patterns, not only by breeding drought tolerant maize varieties or flood-prone rice,” wrote Peter Casier, a social media coordinator at the 2012 Global Conference on Agricultural Research for Development (GCARD2), which was hosted by GFAR. Casier went on to point out that if the youth of today don’t become farmers, lack of labor may soon become the most important obstacle facing agriculture.
Youth all over the world see farming as something they’re forced to do, not something they want to do or a career that will provide economic stability or intellectual stimluation. According to the World Economic Forum, there are 1.2 billion people between the ages of 15 and 24 worldwide. Their unemployment rate is 12.6 percent—that’s three times the global adult unemployment rate—and the vast majority of these young people live in developing countries where farming is a chief source of income. Yet despite the lack of jobs, these youth are still uninterested in working in agriculture.
GFAR worked with Peter Casier and the GCARD2 social media team to try to change this trend. They invited 35 young agriculturalists to attend the conference as reporters covering the event. Through online blogging, social networking, and podcasts, these young professionals spread news about how agricultural development affects their generation and why youth should get involved with agri-business.
These agri-journalists include successful youth such as Meerim Shakirova, a PhD candidate in Energy Economics at Moscow State University. She followed up the conference by launching a Go Green and Stay COOL campaign on Facebook and Twitter to share stories of “cool” young agriculturalists at work. Her colleague, Msekiwa Matsimbe, has received a fellowship to study fisheries and biodiversity in lakes in her home country of Malawi, and in 2013 was appointed Malawi representative at the Young Professionals for Agricultural Research and Development (YPARD), a critical part of GFAR’s steering committee. She aims to work toward “the inclusion of youths in [the] fisheries sector across the globe.”
GCARD2 was just the beginning of this kind of collaboration between GFAR and young agri-professionals. In November 2013, GFAR helped sponsor several young leaders in agriculture to present at a Youth Session of the Global Landscapes Forum, a conference on land-use research. Joseph Macharia of Kenya spoke there about his success with a facebook page called Mkulima Young (“Young Farmer”) where he posts anecdotes, images, and quotes about farming. In just over a year, the page has racked up almost 30,000 likes, mostly from young professionals, and he has expanded his efforts to include a YouTube channel and a radio show that are accessible to young rural farmers in Kenya.
GFAR’s mission is to “mobilize stakeholders involved in agricultural research.” These young professionals are often the first to point out that their generation may be the main stakeholder in farming development: Youth such as Shakirova, Matsimbe, and Macharia will be the next to inherit the global food system, as well as all of the environmental and socioeconomic implications that system carries with it. Working with GFAR can provide a platform from which they can connect with other youth across the world, and together work to shape the future of agriculture into a business that they can believe in—and profit from.