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Youth in Extension: Are we making the most of our young assets?

At the International conference for innovations in extension and rural advisory services 2011, Nairobi, YPARD engaged interested participants on a discussion entitled: ‘youth in extension: are we making the most of our young assets’?  The aim of this discussion was to share the outcomes from the YPARD e-discussion on young professionals in extension, hear the experiences of YPARD members active in extension and generate further discussion on the topic.  E-discussion Are we making the most of our young assets? is a theme that ran through the e-discussion.  Participants felt that the ideas and capabilities of young people working in extension were not valued and made full use of within their work environment.  Discussants felt that youth needed greater support, through targeted trainings and opportunities to innovate using ICTs.  Most of the respondents said that they were happy with their career choice and that the idea of bringing about change is a big one that kept them interested in their careers. Challenges Communication: young extension workers sometimes face difficulties working with older farmers who may not respect the opinion of a young worker.  Discussants say they require better support to become more professional in order to make an impact.  Professionalisation: Discussants want to work in a modern environment, and be able to provide cutting edge technical information, specifically related to ICTs. Perception: Extension still has a negative perception among the worker’s peers and within their community.  It is not recognized as a successful field. Infrastructure:  Some rural housing lacks adequate infrastructure to maintain contact with the outside world, which is very important to today’s youth.    Poor remuneration Moving Ahead
  • Better support from institutions for innovation
  • Mentoring of young professionals
  • Focus on the PULL factors and not the PUSH factors’
  • Internships.  Benefits both parties, the young professional and the organisation gains new insight into their work. 
  • Promote extension with the key factor of ‘change’.  Not everyone will be interested, but many feel this is important.
  • Raise awareness of the role of extension for young people and share experiences of young people. 
  • Training on ICTs and social media. 
Experiences of Winnie Alum, Uganda YPARD member Youth who begin their careers are often placed in rural areas, making it challenging to continue their education, such as pursuing a masters degree.  However, this does not preclude continuous professional development, in fact Winnie believes that it enhances the possibilities.   As a young professional working in extension in a rural area, Winnie has benefitted from many opportunities including invitations by international organizations to share her experiences and mentoring from experienced professionals.  Discussion Young extensionists in South Africa face difficulties from older extension workers who feel threatened by them and are thus, treated poorly.  This discourages youth and makes it more difficult for them to implement new ideas and engage with their colleagues.  Discussions turned to the question of whether University graduates are even the best extensionists?  One participant suggested there should be two education streams for extension and rural advisory services as Universities are not currently providing the skill base needed for a strong extension services.  It was suggested that one would be for University graduates engaged in the formal aspects of extension (donors and research) and the other for high school graduates to work locally, in the field.    Topics also covered the concern around the declining interest of young professionals to engage in extension and agriculture more generally.  Strategies included awareness raising activities, such as introducing it in school, publicizing the experiences of young role models and strategies to increase remuneration.  It was emphasized by a participant from the Democratic Republic of Congo that they also face the problem of declining interest in agriculture among their youth.  Conclusions and Way forward:
  • How do young people get prepared – maybe university is not the best place.  We should look at other ways training could be done including apprenticeship programs. 
  • Certain skills and competencies are lacking in current extension training to make more effective young professionals who can make a difference.
  • Increased awareness on agriculture and extension for youth could include inclusion in education at a young age.  There is an inherent trust in the school system that the information provided is accurate. 
YPARD will continue to motivate and engage young persons active in extension and advisory services.  Those who engaged in the e-discussion said that they were happy with their career choice and that the idea of bringing about change is a big one that kept them interested in their careers. Read the full outcomes of the e-discussions organized in September and October 2011 in preparation of the conference.