As we sat listening to the many speakers at the first Global Landscapes Forum (GLF) in Warsaw last year, we began to envision a future for ourselves in which we could be engaged professionally in tackling some of the complex, inter-dependent issues – those “wicked problems” – about which we heard so much. Although we were all freshly-minted Masters graduates in sustainable agricultural development, the introduction to the landscape approach afforded us a new and broader perspective on the meaning of – and pathways for – achieving sustainable development.
The messages from the GLF were clear. There is a pressing need to invest in the sustainability of all the interrelated facets of a landscape to develop sound policy options for their governance, and to work towards better comprehension of climate change mitigation, and adaptation, and the interaction of the two.
It wasn’t until weeks after the event, however, when we had once again scattered to our various corners of the globe, that we began to appreciate the full extent to which the GLF had inspired us. By drawing on and consolidating what we had learned at the forum, and combining this with our previous experiences, we enlisted some of our colleagues to the cause and came together online to launch a new platform, the Global AgroEcology Alliance (GAEA).
As we are all young professionals ourselves, our aim at GAEA is to reach out to other youth and young people around the world. We are working to encourage dialogue on sustainable agricultural systems and resource use and to organize research programs and development initiatives geared to improving the economic, environmental and social sustainability of land-use systems, rural livelihoods, and natural resource management.
Thus, against a backdrop of reports warning of aging farmer populations in the global north and an exodus of rural youth migrating to cities in the global south, GAEA has begun investigating the heavily contested topic of whether we are indeed facing a crisis in replacing the next generation of rural dweller and farmers. Given the host of drivers potentially pushing youth away from the land (such as poor rural infrastructure, land degradation and the lack of lucrative economic opportunities), and given that the significance of any given driver is likely to vary by locality and that these drivers are deeply entrenched in the political, economic, environmental and social contexts at household, regional, national and global scales, we recognize that the approach needed for this inquiry must reflect this complexity, while also examining a staggering number of factors.
Photo by Kate Evans for Center for International Forestry Research (CIFOR).