What are the impacts of the COVID-19 crisis on the world’s food system? This question sets the backdrop of a recent chat with EdenWorld (EW) and Dr. Yemi Adeyeye, the YPARD Director, on the theme – roles of young professionals in achieving sustainable agri-food system in a Post COVID-19 world.
EW: What makes an agri-food system sustainable?
Yemi: In simple terms, #AgriFoodSystem relates to all components that contribute to putting food on the table (e.g. through the works of #farmers, extension agents and advisors, researchers, marketers, logistics…). Agri-food system is #sustainable when the different components of the system function in an integrated manner and advance these 3 dimensions of sustainability: social, economic and environmental dimensions.
EW: In your own terms who are the young professionals?
Yemi: This is a good question. Any answer I give (or anyone else gives) is open to contestation. Here is how I see it. First, being a #youth and being a #YoungProfessional (YP) are not necessarily the same thing. To define youth is to focus primarily on age classification. Being a young professional is beyond that. To define a young professional, you focus primarily on the professional history of individuals. In this sense, a youth may not be a young professional and a young professional may not necessary be a youth. Nonetheless, it is more likely for individuals in these two groups to overlap. For example, the #UN identifies youth as individuals within age 15 – 24. A 17-year old with no professional experience will not be a YP. It is very important to understand how these two groups are characterized in term of similarities and differences. This is particularly true for policy makers and agencies with responsibilities of designing interventions that interacts in many different ways with the lives of individuals within these groups.
Yemi: I characterize young professionals in agri-food systems as early-career individuals (not to be misconstrued for white-collar jobs alone), engaged in activities across the agri-food systems value chain (e.g. #farmers, #agripreneurs, agro-/science communicators, educators, policy-makers etc.). YPs tend to fall within this age range: 18 – 40 years old. Again, note that youth in Ag does not necessarily equate YP in Ag. They may (and tend to) overlap. I am open to discussing this further with anyone who have any other insights.
EW: Given COVID19 Pandemic, what are the key roles of Young Professional or how can Young professionals leverage on the current pandemic to boost their productivity in the Agri-Food System?
Yemi: That we need each other to survive (the action or inaction of one affect many) is one of the lessons that #COVID19 reminds us all. Therefore, YPs can leverage this understanding (or motivation) to connect more with each other and forge new alliances (e.g. for businesses and support networks). Doing these could facilitate: i) the development of new ventures and expansion of old ones (which otherwise will be expensive for individuals); ii) sharing of information, knowledge and expertise needed for #innovations
Yemi: Consider reaching out to that friend, colleague and even competitors, chances are, they will be looking out for opportunities to get back on their feet after the pandemic. Perhaps it is time for new fleets of business empires to rise from this dust.
Yemi: And for #advocates, YPs in policy arenas, agri-communicators… this will be the period when agencies, platforms and processes will require new positive energies, ideas and compelling stories about how the world has changed and how we need to change with it. Remember that there is always someone more vulnerable that you are (think about rural youth, young women and Indigenous Peoples). You will need to take those stages, speak up, chronicle and put faces to your stories. Speak and write in favour of inclusive interventions. All with more confidence than before.
A relevant resource: https://ypard.net/resources/special-issue-covid-19-and-youth
EW: Do you see any threat/challenge for achieving a more sustainable Agri-Food system after the COVID 19?
Yemi: Yes. It is important that we all recognize potential outcomes of this pandemic (e.g. increased poverty and inequalities in our society) as the extent to which we recognize this will shape how we prepare to tackle the challenges. To be honest, many of the pre-pandemic challenges will remain, but with more intensity #Post-COVID19. The pandemic will likely exacerbate food insecurity and social inequalities. These two challenges are connected to:
i) Limited financial investments for YPs in agri-food system. There is ample evidence that YPs are less likely to qualify for conventional investment opportunities.
Proposed solution: investment programs targeting YPs. Who should do it includes states, private sector, dev. Agencies and financial institutions.
ii) Capacities – especially as it relates to rural youth with limited exposure to capacity development opportunities, innovations and rapid technological progress
Proposed solution: education institutions/training programs and agencies need to take up the role of teaching advanced cognitive skills (critical thinking and problem solving) and non-cognitive skills needed for successful youth employment in a post-covid19 world.
iii) Gender-based constraints (given the scarce nature of resources, social norms may limit access for rural young woman than their male counterpart). In a Post-covid19 world where many will be scrambling for limited opportunities, some will be more vulnerable than others will.
Proposed solution: Designing and implementing interventions that recognize individual differences. Who should do it: all of us! In any initiative that we are working on, we pay attention. We do better.
EW: Final words or advice from you
Yemi: At YPARD, we are preparing to ensure that @YPARD remains better positioned to facilitate YP’s potentials to shape the agri-food system in a #Post-COVID19 world. Related to this, there are some important resources (e.g. funding/job opportunities and an e-library) on our website: www.ypard.net
Thanks for inviting me for this chat. This is an interesting topic and I am aware that there is a lot to talk about on this issue. If anyone has any comment or question, please feel free to get in touch with me.
Photo credit: Dr. Yemi Adeyeye