Youth, the Future of Family Farming

Involving Youth in Foresight ActivitiesIt was the first day of June in the serene and sunny – but slightly windy – city of Montpellier, and from all around the world researchers and academics in the fields of agriculture and family farming were gathered: experts in international development, decision makers, NGOs, as well as farmers organizations’ and private sector representatives. The stage had been set for the “International Encounters on Family Farming and Research”.

The “Encounters” had been organized as part of the International Year of Family Farming, declared by the United Nations for 2014 by research institutions of Montpellier hub – Agropolis International – in collaboration with international partners like the CGIAR Consortium, the Global Forum for Agricultural Research (GFAR) and the World Rural Forum (WRF). With the support of the Government of France, the aim of the conference was to foster exchanges between all stakeholders and enhance research agendas dealing with family farming and the global change challenges.

“The” Youth Co-chair

Over three hours before the opening event at 7:30pm – a public debate kick-started by Hans Herren, a passionate elderly man I admire: all the chairs, co-chairs and facilitators of the working groups’ event had a briefing. Their task was to plan the methods of engaging the audience in the discussion groups based on the orientation papers earlier prepared – weeks ahead – to guide the conference discussions. I was a co-chair representing YPARD within the working group on “Family Farming facing the challenges of urbanization and employment”. From my assessment, I can say that I was the youngest face in the room.

Prior to the main event, while working on the orientation paper for my discussion group, I had managed to persuade my older colleagues to include an expanded section on the relationship between youth and family farming in order to reflect better youth’s insights. Indeed, although senior people are willing to address youth’s challenges, youth perceptions on these challenges often fall onto the sidelines.

During the following two day event, I facilitated and presented the outcomes of the discussions of the English sub-group, which counted with two young researchers – a lady and a man. One of them, a researcher from the Imperial College UK, intimated me that she had joined the group because the orientation paper discussed two topics she is presently concerned about: youth employment and agriculture.

A future for family farming without the Youth?

In the course of the discussions, among other things, it was generally agreed that youth have a positive role to play as the future of family farming. Moreover, the different participants stressed that although young people currently operate in a difficult environment with lacks of vital resources coupled with a negative perception, they are increasingly tackling these issues with  advocacy, use of technology as well as  with their energy and various innovative ideas.

Apart from this, one interesting high point for me as a youth representative at the conference was the presentation of Robin Bourgeois, Senior Foresight and Development Policies Expert at GFAR, titled “What could research do for the futures of family farming?”, where he highlighted, among other important factors, the vital role of young people to the future of family farming and global food production. The most exciting statement was when he asserted that “we cannot think about the future of family without taking on board the perspective of the youth”.

Towards Youth’s Forward Thinking

This statement made me think about what could be the role of youth in the futures of agriculture. Likewise, as a young member of the Forward Thinking Platform of the GFAR, I would like to figure out if young people, especially in the agricultural development field, are doing enough and engaging the right stakeholders to drive key policies that not only make agriculture more appealing to the youth, but also strive to give more visibility and recognition to the positive and important roles of youth to the futures of farming, food security and sustainability.

These are thoughts and questions I believe we should start addressing as young agriculturists. Moreover, identifying the alternative futures of agriculture is crucial to recognizing and pinpointing the areas of maximum impact where young people could contribute to a food secure world. This is a call for young people at YPARD  to embrace the challenge of getting involved in the Forward Thinking Platform to deepen our strategic thinking and positioning towards the future we want.

In the end, I must say it was an exciting sharing and learning experience that let me put across my views as well as to learn from others’ perspectives on the issues that family farms face around the world and on the ways to make research more responsive to family farming. Thanks to this experience, I have also learned more about the way to work with senior researchers and other professionals, regarding particularly their natural inhibitions in working with young people and the challenge of tactfully working around this to get youths’ views acknowledged.

Oluwabunmi Ajilore is YPARD Foresight Ambassador since the sixth Africa Agriculture Science Week 2013 (AASW6), organized by the Forum for Agricultural Research in Africa (FARA). To get more familiar with the topic, you can check Oluwabunmi's blog post "Youth foresight for their Future", as well as a more detailed article on involving young people in foresight activities titled "The future belongs to the youth".

Picture credit: Come to the light, by bschwehn.