In the past few years, YPARD has worked on a series of activities to better prepare young people for the job market. A 2011 research study examined the skills needed by today’s youth in agriculture and a career fair examined youth’s “employability” at Tropentag in Prague in 2014. Partnerships with university consortia like GCHERA, RUFORUM and Agrinatura, also invited young professionals to share their recent experience in the employment sector with the aim of informing curricula development in a changing environment.
This year, we wanted to go beyond, shifting the discussions from “youth: this is what we want from you” to “How can we support youth’s visions of a sustainable agricultural future?”. YPARD and IAAS’s session at Tropentag 2016 in Vienna asked what actions the youth of tomorrow will want us to have taken today. It involved around 25 participants; mainly students and young professionals and a few senior professionals.
This interactive session started with a brief presentation and an icebreaker where participants got to learn about each other and the motivations that led them to the agricultural sector. Through this we wanted to have a better understanding of youth’s vision(s) for agricultural development. Small discussion groups were then formed to answer the questions: 1) what role are today’s youth playing to realize their vision and how does it reflect in their studies and the job sector? 2) What skills and competencies are most valuable in current agricultural development practice; is there a good balance between technical and soft skills and how can this be improved? (3) How can we prepare young professionals to work towards the future they want?
Youth’s aspirations in agriculture
Eight major reasons led the young people at the session to get involved in agriculture:
- To respond to major challenges like food security, climate change, land use and ultimately, sustainability.
- To Change the status quo and improve the way things are done
- To exploring untapped potential like commercialization and economic diversification
- Support national development for self-sufficiency, linking rural and urban activities and improving livelihoods
- As a part of cultural heritage. The family and their history
- To improve livelihoods, particularly of small-holder farmers
- To combine traditional and modern knowledge and techniques
- To improve health, both human and environmental
In brief, agriculture is largely seen among the session’s youth as a means for sustainable human, social, natural and economic livelihoods development, from local to global level.
Youth’s means to fulfill their visions
Yet, when the group discussed about the role played by today’s youth to realize their vision, some participants drew upon negative perceptions of youth. Some respondents said that African youth has no vision, no perspective, no practical knowledge, no motivation for internships, no appropriate training and who sees agriculture as an unattractive sector synonymous of punishment (a heritage for agricultural tasks being assigned as punishment) Some highlighted the missing link between theory and practice and stressed youth’s concerns about employment precariousness (short contracts) that can prevent youth from taking a long term, transformative approach to their work. Either way, learning how to manage risk was highlighted as a necessary skill to learn. Also, enabling cohesive and consolidated efforts among actors with down to earth and dynamic systems, linking NGOs and rural areas better, was presented as key for agricultural development. We would love to carry on these discussions to indeed better grasp youth’s visions about their future and agricultural development particularly.
Strengthening youth’s skills and competencies for their future
A series of concrete solutions were given to support youth in the sector, through stronger capacity building, in particular. Lack of technical skills were emphasized by participants from Nepal and Africa, while soft skills were recognized as missing in Austria. Management and business skills were stressed as key in general. The solutions suggested to better prepare the youth for the future they want were:
- Create more internship opportunities and exchange studies for the youth
- Raise awareness about the importance of internships and promote the role of the youth in the sector
- Increase information sharing and networking for enhanced knowledge and for promoting agriculture as an attractive sector
- Foster more exchanges between different disciplines, for sustainable development
- Enhance multi-cultural understanding and different perspectives
- Ensure better collaboration between farming practices and universities and farm visits
- Build youth’s risk management skills and decision making
- Foster more participatory research by institutions
- Although curricula change takes time; more connections with professional networks can enhance the process.
- Create more flexible curricula so that students can better choose what they want to learn
- Promote agriculture as a business and ensure the right equipment and technologies to make agriculture more attractive
- Companies to recognize the value of youth as professionals and clients
- Youth should be included in decision making
- Learn to share failures and learn from them
The day was marked by a surprise birthday cake by the organizers of the Tropentag conference, for YPARD 10 years. The cake was brought to YPARD Director during the plenary as the audience sang the birthday song together. The cake was further shared at the YPARD booth; the booth attracted an impressive number of students’ visits.
Watch Didier Pillot’s testimonial on the value for universities to work with YPARD and young professionals in agriculture.
Picture credits: YPARD