“Agriculture has an image problem,” acknowledged the Young Professionals for Agricultural Development (YPARD), a youth network that aims to connect young people by offering a conduit to share information and get excited about agriculture. Along with other agricultural youth networks throughout the world, YPARD is working to give agriculture a facelift, in order to pierce through the persistent perception that agriculture is “an outdated field with minimal financial returns.”
In less developed parts of the world, negative perceptions of a life in food production have resulted in many young people moving to the city seeking prospects of a greater livelihood. “The exodus of rural youth means fewer small-scale farmers tomorrow, potentially drastically changing the profile of farming,” according to a recent report by the International Institute for Environment and Development (IIED).
The IIED outlined the possible effects of the exodus: “It is not just a local employment and livelihood issue. If today’s rural youth cannot or do not want to become tomorrow’s farmers, how can we hope to feed a fast-rising world population?”
But many initiatives are working to help curb the flow of young people away from rural areas.
The key is exposure and education, according to YPARD—as young people are exposed to new and alternative ways of engaging with agriculture, new positive career choices are becoming possible.
In Australia, Art4Agriculture, for example, aims to increase the awareness of the variety options available for youth on the land. By delivering events and activities that highlight agriculture as dynamic and innovative, such as the Young Farming Champions Program, Art4Agriculture aims to present a sector “that the next generation sees as the place they want to be.”
In Ghana, the youth-led Savannah Young Farmers Network (SavaNet), focuses on advocacy, capacity development training, provision of agricultural extension, and rural advisory services, as well as the promotion of market access for farmers.
Based in Finland, the Rural Youth Europe (RYEurope)—an umbrella organization for 21 youth organizations across 18 European countries—has approximately half a million young participants. Along with running seminars, events, and international training courses throughout the continent, RYEurope takes an active role in developing, advocating, and lobbying agricultural and environmental policies.
These projects highlight the important role that youth can play in improving food security. Young minds are needed, according to the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization, “to find answers that respond to the problems that we face today and not those of the past.”