Wednesday, 14 August 2013

Get more youth involved

THE world’s population is expected to reach nine billion by 2025. If for no other reason, this fact should place the issue of food and water security at the top of any national agenda. How will all of these people be fed? Will we be able to produce enough food? How will we engage in the type of food economics that will ensure that no one country is wasting its surpluses while other countries remain starved? If we struggle to do this now, how much harder will it be in coming years, unless we change our approach?

We ask these questions knowing that despite many calls for a greater push to get persons producing more food locally, our youth – those who will be responsible for feeding our nations tomorrow – are not all inclined to get into what they perceive to be such “laborious” means of earning an income.

Indeed, Grenada does not struggle alone in this regard. Research tells us that there is a declining interest worldwide of youth to take up careers in agriculture.

Courtney Paisley, Global Co-ordinator of the Young Professionals Platform on Agricultural Research for Development, said earlier this year that agriculture was suffering from an image problem. “There is a decreasing interest among youth in entering agricultural related fields due to the persistent perception of agriculture as an outdated field with minimal financial returns,” said Paisley, adding that youth faced large challenges accessing land and finance without collateral.

The average age of a farmer is 52 in Brazil, 57 in the USA and 60 in Africa.

One of the points that Paisley made, which has also been emphasised by regional agricultural stakeholders, is that agriculture was not featured prominently in the media and was rarely glamorous when it was. “Working with the media to provide more interesting portrayals of agricultural careers is important, as is working with ICTs and social media to reach a broader audience,” Paisley noted.

One good thing that we have been recognising and promoting is the need to merge traditional
approaches to agriculture with modern tools at the disposal of youth, namely Information and Communication Technology. From robotics to smartphones and tablets, social media to tele-conferencing, and now in the region, a strengthened push to build strong global brands, there is no reason why the countries of the Caribbean region cannot be able to compete successfully, if not in quantity, most certainly in quality. Whether you view it as negative or positive, few things attract youth like their perception of success. They need to be able to see in their minds how the puzzles fit into a big picture that works and is profitable.

Many of our youth are attracted to professional services careers. This can be in accounting, law, media, marketing, banking and finance and corporate secretarial services. These are all skills that are badly needed in the agricultural industry. Time and time again we hear from donor organisations such as Caribbean Export that many agricultural operations miss out on grants because of an inability to present decent business proposals. Often, there are no systematic methods of information gathering. Simple things like basic book-keeping are not done in a timely and consistent manner. This is an opportunity for young persons – who breathe and eat IT, and who in our society seem to gravitate towards a business-minded culture – to earn money and advance this industry, even if they don’t want to be involved in all aspects of the farming process.

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