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Tapping the fountain of Youth: Rejuvenating agricultural development.

TarekThere are more clichés of the type “Money doesn’t really matter” than one can count, especially when we take a look at how development in less favoured countries.  Like it or not,  money matters,  but wealth matters even more. Development, especially agricultural development that is presumably sustainable requires financing, imperatively one that comes with returns making it more of an investment.When Looking at the list of priority areas in the GCARD roadmap, I stopped at the third item:

“Increased investments to meet the huge challenges ahead and ensure the required development returns from AR4D "

Knowing as little as I do about this topic, I kept asking myself, who invests? What are conditions  for this investment? And how to measure the success of a project based on the require development returns?

My subconscious would answer: It has to generate wealth for the target group, not only for the target group, not only for the middlemen, and most definitely not only for the investors. Investments made with the expectation of financial returns in a predefined manner and timeframe risk limiting the target group to the constraints of the market. More often than not, the market is misaligned with development goals. It is true that there are market tools such as branding for sustainability or price premium for production systems such as organic farming. However, Given that these mechanisms are more evident on national and global scales, which scale should we target when we consider agricultural investment?

Somehow my mind refuses the notion of scalability that has thousands of farmers across the globe going for the same best practice!

Not being an economist, but a proud agro-ecologist (a technical term for an agriculture jack of all trades), I would argue that sustainable agricultural development could only be achieved through targeting specific contexts. In other words, working on and with the shared reality of a group of people who have the common interest of getting the most out of this local context without exhausting its functionality. As Utopian as it sounds, it is the thing our ancestors could successfully do.

 Financial returns may have been a part of this equation, but definitely not the way it is today. What I am trying to say here, financial returns can no longer be the driver and frame for our development goals. There is a gap between what we want to achieve and what we actually do as distinct groups who try to work together. The way we have been working has only been widening this gap, which means we need to summon the powers of one of the most used buzzwords of our time: Innovation!

As omnivores, I once heard Claude Fischler say, it is imperative fore us to innovate. Being a highly adaptable species thanks to our developed brains, we need to innovate today more than ever with all the change that is happening to our climate, demography and needs. Deliberate innovation has been recognized as a collective effort. It is important while we work collectively to know what knowledge sharing mechanisms do we need in order to innovate, and the tools we need for co-creating an innovative solution.

The aspects of co-creation such as flexibility, openness to learning  and willingness to take immediate action are more likely to be found among the youth. Young people did not  yet get locked in epistemological  boundaries  as opposed to more experienced actors.  Presumably, the youth can shift perspectives more easily and muster the boldness to come up with an out-of-the-box response to an issue, in spite of all the odds imposed by rational thinking and being too familiar with the business as usual.

There are setting s for deliberate co-creation such as hackathons and the Global Service Jam,  with the multiple benefits the offer such as accelerated learning, cooperation, unleashing creativity, and the essential component of having fun while working.  Having been part of such events I realized that being “young” has little to do with age, but rather with a certain attitude.

Experience in a certain field has a great value for co -creation, and serves to orient the development of an idea. I have also witnessed how start-ups that up and running have been conceived as an outcome of such events, where participants from different walks of life sit together and engage in the co-creation for a solution, or a response to a given theme or challenge.  The beauty of such events is the wealth of insights, the exchange, the learning and the diversity in a short but surprisingly productive timeframe.

The idea I am highlighting here is the potential of these practices to reintroduce science to society and realign scientific research with the propensities of the society, to offer an opportunity to revisit power relations and ask the questions that matter.

As many of us have learned the lesson, there are no silver bullets or one size fits all solutions, these events come with a set of frustrations, conflict of interest,  and some participating teams may not succeed at conceiving a viable idea. However, I have witnessed teams of young people at the city of Oslo who managed to provide innovative and impactful solutions to the Oslo municipality.

The investment return we need in terms of development, I would say, is empowered youth/youthfulness with the ability to ask the right questions, work with others, come up with actionable solutions, roll up their sleeves, and get to work. 

This blog post is part of the GCARD3 Youth blogpost applications. The content, structure and grammar is at the discretion of the author only.

Picture credit: Maiken McCormik