Whassup with Agriculture: AgTalks session focused on young innovators and how to engage young people in agriculture

Written by: Michele Pentorieri

The speakers at the AgTalks session that focused on youth in agriculture. ©IFAD/M. Pentorieri
On 29th November, the eight session of AgTalks took place at IFAD's headquarter. The name of the session was "Whassup with agriculture? Young innovators tell their stories," and four young speakers  shared their stories and  ideas on how young people can be motivated to engage in agriculture. The speakers were Josine Macaspac from Philippines, Alpha Sennon from Trinidad and Tobago, Nawsheen Hosenally from Mauritius and Rahul Antao from India.

Josine, a medical and veterinary entomologist, explained the dangers of promoting the use of chemical products to fight pests. If the pests survive the first application of a chemical substance,  they become resistant to it, forcing farmers to use other ones. This leads to an increasing use of chemical products in agriculture. In order to avoid this, Josine invented a Mechanical Pest Removal System: a low-cost machine that helps to kill and remove pests from rice, corns and other similar products. The machine is based on three principle: mechanic, organic and manual. Innovation in agriculture does not need to be expensive or hi-tech.

Alpha never thought about being a farmer when he was young. Agriculture seemed really boring to him and it was not considered as an activity for young people at all. After travelling to Jamaica with his university, he realised agriculture could be promoted in a different way. His mission became to show young people that agriculture is not what they think it is. He founded WHYFARM (We Help Youth Farm), a non-governmental organisation aimed at increasing awareness among young people about food and food systems. He also created "Agriman", a superhero whose mission is to educate children about issues like food security and food waste.

Nawsheen lives in Burkina Faso. According to her, only young people have the tools and the capacities to stimulate other young people to engage in agriculture. So she founded a web TV called "Agribusiness TV" with a twofold aim. The first one is to show people the positive sides of agriculture, since media never do. The second one is to give visibility to stories that can stimulate young people to see agriculture in a positive way.

The last speaker, Rahul Antao from India, currently works at IFAD as a consultant. He studied at the University of Gastronomic Sciences in Italy. He also worked with young chefs and indigenous rural communities in North Eastern India, focusing on the linkages between culture, man and ecology. He realised young people were moving away from local indigenous traditions, so he worked to create recipes that could be attractive for young people while using traditional products such as millet. "Children are often disenchanted about agriculture, so we created school gardens to stimulate their curiosity" said Rahul, who also worked with Slow Food Italy.

After the presentations, the audience had the opportunity to ask questions to the speakers or to simply share their impressions. The President of IFAD Kanayo F. Nwanze thanked the four young innovators for having shared their stories, inviting them to also focus on the efficiency of the value chains. Perin Saint Ange, IFAD's associate Vice-President, underlined some of the key points that for him were crucial for the speakers' success. Among others, their passion their proactivity, and their capacity of thinking outside the box.

Some interesting questions focused on the role of social media for the young farmers' success and what international organisations such as IFAD, FAO and WFP can do to promote young people's projects in agriculture. The speakers agreed that social media had a great impact on their projects. Alpha underlined they were crucial to share his idea, Josine got project feedback from all over the world about and Nawsheen recognised the use of social media as a constituent part of the strategy to spread her Agribusiness TV. With regard to the second question, Rahul invited the organisations to listen to young people's ideas and Nawsheen wished for a more efficient collaboration between organisations and young people in order to identify relevant issues, a wish shared by Alpha too.

In closing, the four speakers were invited to leave the audience and young people in general with an inspirational sentence or thought. Nawsheen focused on passion, inviting everyone to "love what you do." Josine tried to motivated people to take the first step, the first step is usually the hardest one to take. Rahul encouraged people to link things together, trying to combine different aspects of the same issue one is focusing on. "Allow your ideas to change the world, don't let the world change your ideas" said Alpha.