In my years of working with youth and agriculture, the landscape has changed considerably. When I first began in 2010, youth as rarely a topic for discussion, we lobbied for young people as part of delegations, part of discussions and as a topic. Every once in a while, we secured an ill-attended side event. But it remained ‘novel’ and never did we have the critical mass of young attendees.
But now, I can tell you, the mood is very different. Youth are on the agenda. This is a result of both perceived opportunities (youth as agricultural innovators, agriculture as solving youth unemployment) and perceived fears (the threat of the youth bulge, what might all of these unemployed youth do?). It may be a development trend, but at the moment it feels as though it’s a recognition that more inclusive societies work better. That programs that are inclusive have a better chance of lasting, with those future employees, employers, food providers and decision makers taking an active part in the process.
There is irrefutable evidence that our food production methods are unsustainable. Yet changing behaviour is an incredibly challenging thing. At the same time, we are working with a generation that has experienced more rapid change than any generation before them. We have an opportunity to make real and sustainable changes to ways we interact with food, the industry and the agricultural realities.
YPARD plays a role in amplifying the voices of youth on topical issues in agriculture and organisations reach out to have relevant input in their own discussions. But what is the so-called ‘youth voice'? How can a 15,000 member strong organisation from a range of backgrounds, countries, disciplines and experiences constitute one voice?
The answer is that a single voice is not possible. But a better understanding of the drivers, challenges, opportunities and aspirations of varied youth in the agricultural sector is. These can help to inform specific programmes and policies. It is necessary to interrogate what type of information is the most valuable, how to ensure that input is representative, the most effective way of accessing it and who it should be provided to. YPARD has grown and matured. It now has the power bring diverse, cross-disciplinary perspectives of young people in the agricultural sector.
So we fight against a one size fits all prescription. We want to support the development of a network of strong youth leaders around the world who will take leadership and action both individually and collectively. We provide space for them to identify their own needs and what they feel are the most pressing needs of youth in agriculture in their context. Because there is no Innovation without a space for new ideas.
In order to do this, a true youth-led and representative network is necessary. Who makes the decisions and how do the members drive the process? What processes can be put into place to ensure that members feel they have a voice in the network, that voices are heard beyond the network and that those voices are either representative or clearly framed within their context? These are some the questions we will be interrogating in the YPARD strategic planning process slated for March 2018.
The strategic planning meeting will reflect upon the external review and bring members together to make the next strategic plan. We want to capture as much information as possible from all of you. We’ll be sharing ways that you can provide your input so that the YPARD network not only works for you, but also for a better future. Stay tuned.
All the best to you in 2018!