They’re young, articulate and organized and they want to be heard. They are the new generation of agricultural professionals who want a future on the land and to be able to make a difference to the social and economic life of their communities. One of most important and exciting outcomes of the 4th Congress of the South-North Mediterranean Dialogue in Milan this month was the leadership shown by young people in the agriculture for development sector.
The Congress, themed “Rural Communities No Longer Left Behind” was the culmination of regional dialogues held in the four corners of the Mediterranean: Vólos, Alexandria, Montpellier and Rabat, convened to look at the challenges facing rural populations and opportunities for development co-operation.
What became clear during these dialogues was that the fallout from the economic, social and political changes in the Mediterranean Basin is having dire consequences for young people and women there. So, for the Milan Congress, separate sessions were scheduled on youth and gender. GFAR worked with the Young Professionals for Agricultural Development network (YPARD), to ensure a good representation of young women and men from the different sectors, including farming, enterprise, research and civil society.
The exodus of young people to the cities is well-documented as a major issue for rural communities, but in parts of both the Northern and Southern Mediterranean, many young people are actually looking to return to rural areas. However they are finding that the conditions there aren’t attractive enough for them to resettle. Obstacles identified by those at the Youth Workshop in Milan were a lack of access to land and finance, and to education, health, and social services. Young people also need an education system that provides skills and training that respond to local and regional challenges, and meets their needs. They need social and governmental support to develop alternative lifestyles and production systems that are adapted to each local context.
This theme – of thinking locally and acting locally – surfaced time and again during Congress sessions on innovation, investment and women in agriculture. In other words, how can we recognise and respond to locally identified priorities and needs, rather than those which are centrally defined? While the Congress was about identifying common issues facing rural communities, the Mediterranean is a diverse region where the proposed solutions must be relevant to those communities and involve their participation.
What was abundantly clear from the Congress is that young people want to participate in the political life of their communities: they want a voice and they want to be heard. Moreover, they want to be part of a society that recognizes farming as a noble profession, something that has great public value.
As a sector, we are fortunate that, in YPARD in particular, we have a network of young people who are very articulate proponents for rural areas. They are demanding a new way of thinking about farming and development. They are calling for big changes in how we think about the economy, about personal and community priorities, and they are creating platforms to enable their views to be heard. One of the outcomes from the Congress, for instance, is that a follow-up event will be held involving governments, NGOs, and others in the agricultural sector, where young people can articulate their desire to work on the land and push for real changes in their societies.
From what I observed during the Congress, and in the regional dialogues leading up to it, I have no doubt that they will succeed.
The Milan Congress was organized by the Fondation du Dialogue Sud-Nord Méditerranée in collaboration with the Global Forum on Agricultural Research (GFAR). It aimed to develop common themes for a rejuvenation of rural communities in the MENA region (Mediterranean basin) as a contribution to the GCARD3 process.