THE BLOG

The Farmers and Food System Leaders of Tomorrow

06/04/2015 05:41 pm ET | Updated Jun 04, 2016

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Young people are the farmers and food system leaders of tomorrow. According to the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD), young people are increasingly abandoning agriculture and rural areas in search of better prospects, which makes creating opportunities for young people to contribute to their agricultural communities an urgent need.

Today, young people can explore career options in permaculture design, biodynamic farming, communication technologies, forecasting, marketing, logistics, quality assurance, urban agriculture projects, food preparation, environmental sciences, and more.

In the coming year at Food Tank, we are focusing our work on the world's next generation of agricultural leaders -- amplifying and deepening our research, growing our online community, and continuing to encourage an energized global dialogue on the important issue of youth in agriculture in partnership with IFAD.

With an aging population of farmers, it's clear that agriculture needs to attract more young people. Half of the farmers in the United States are 55 or older, and the average age of farmers in sub-Saharan Africa is roughly 60 years old. The United Nations' International Labour Organization (ILO) predicts that, globally, there will be 74.2 million unemployed young people this year, an increase of 3.8 million since 2007.

The agricultural sector offers great potential for job creation; effectively publicizing the market's open and varied employment opportunities can radically change youths' perception of agriculture and, as a result, radically change agriculture's lasting impact.

Now more than ever, we need to help educate, motivate, prepare, and support the world's next generation of agricultural leaders and farmers.

"I would ask that -- not only in my own country but across the world -- opportunities are created for us [young people] to prove that, yes, we can do it," Sandra Sandoval, a young rural businesswoman from El Salvador, told IFAD.

In a recent report, IFAD identified six main challenges that youth face in entering the agriculture field: insufficient access to knowledge, information, and education; limited access to land; inadequate access to financial services; difficulties accessing jobs in agriculture field; limited access to markets; and limited involvement in policy dialogue.

To combat these issues, IFAD is investing in youth, especially rural youth. The programs IFAD supports enable young, rural people to gain access to the resources and tools necessary to be productive and enter agricultural markets.

In Zanzibar, farmer field schools allow new farmers to learn agricultural practices -- and to mentor their peers. Farmer field schools use participatory group approaches to teach people how to farm and tackle agricultural challenges, and, as a result, increase yields and knowledge. "Since I joined this group, I am no longer dependent on my family," Zeyana Ali Said, a rural poultry farmer in Zanzibar, told IFAD. "Now I completely depend on myself. Before, I was getting about five or seven eggs from each hen. But now I get up to 25 eggs [per hen each month]."

The IFAD Rural Youth Talents Program in South America seeks to publicize and share knowledge from lessons learned in rural youth agriculture programs. The goal is to establish and strengthen networks of youth engaged in food and agriculture, as well involve more youth in the field.

In Uganda, IFAD supports the Developing Innovations in School Cultivation (DISC) project, which improves nutrition and food knowledge through school gardens in ten primary and five secondary schools.

In Saint Lucia, the Helping Out Our Primary and Secondary Schools (HOOPSS) project has created school gardens in more than a dozen schools and teaches children techniques such as organic fertilizer use and rainwater harvesting.

In Madagascar, the PROSPERER project promotes rural entrepreneurship through apprenticeships that include training and marketing materials in the regions of Sofia, Itasy, Analamanga, Haute Matsiatra, and Batovavy Fltovinagny.

In Brazil, the National Confederation of Agricultural Workers (Confederação Nacional dos Trabalhadores na Agricultura -- CONTAG) established a youth knowledge program to enhance the skills of young farmers. The organization provides a free online training course for young farmers, which includes information on family farming, health, and labor laws.

Through Food Tank's partnership with IFAD, we hope to strengthen the number of youth involved in agriculture fields at all levels. The time to invest in the agricultural leaders of tomorrow is now.