If agriculture is an aging profession, we need to make some changes!

Young plant in sand

Ask a young person what they wish for their future, and very few will mention agriculture.

Whether as a farmer, researcher or extension officer, the production of food tends to be a last resort, not the positive choice of an ambitious young man or woman.

This of course raises a fundamental question: who will grow the crops to feed the world?

…writes Keron Bascombe in the intro of an article
he recently published
in the New Agriculturist.

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GCARD2: Young professionals “Make Agriculture Cool Again”

The story of a dream, a nightmare and a wish…

Video: Social media can be more than “a means”. It can be “a purpose” too.


The dream

by Enrica Porcari, GCARD2 Communications coordinator

As we planned communication activities for GCARD2, we wanted more than ‘ tell a story’. We wanted to advocate the cause of agriculture, we wanted to include people in the process, before, during, after, and we dreamed of building capacities along the way.

We chose a new way of communicating. Blending traditional and social media and putting young people at the center. Already back in 2010, with colleagues from GFAR, we dreamed about using GCARD as a vehicle to demonstrate the enthusiasm of young researchers and extension agents alike, of students and young graduates, … We dreamed about creating a platform where the youth could have a voice to shape the future they will be living in, where they could demonstrate their work, we wanted to give them “their space on the stage”, and at the same time enrich the GCARD process as a whole.

At GCARD2, we made this dream come true…

The nightmare

by Peter Casier, GCARD2 Social Media coordinator

In 2011, I stood in a field, talking to Kumal, a farmer in Bihar, India. With a sad look in his eyes, he said: “I went to school, but could not find a job, so now, I am just farming my land. I hope for my children to have a better future, to get a job in the city, in construction, or as a cleaner or a desk clerk. Anything, really, except doing as I had to do: farm the land.”
I realized none of the farmers I interviewed in Africa and Asia, actually saw agriculture as a viable future for their children.

This became my nightmare: The biggest challenges “to feed the world” in the near future might not only be solved by helping farmers adapt to shifting weather patterns, not only by breeding drought tolerant maize varieties or flood-prone rice. The biggest challenge for a food-secure world might not only lay in promoting more nutrient-rich crops, drop irrigation and micro-fertilizing… My nightmare was: soon, we might have no farmers left. If farming, agriculture research, extension services are no longer seen as a viable professional future for our kids, then “who will grow the crops that will feed the world”?

“Making agriculture cool again”, could very well be one of the biggest opportunities we have. GCARD2, we found one way to show how cool agriculture really is and engage the youth!

The wish

by Michael Hoevel and Liz Sharma, GCARD2 Traditional Media coordinators

For years now, we have been working with clients in the agricultural sector. As professional media people, we have seen how the mainstream media got interested again in issues like food security, agricultural research, “how to grow more food without wrecking the planet”. For us, that made GCARD2 an ideal platform to approach the press, showcasing the excellent work done on agricultural development and research. And the press was eager to learn more.

But our wish for our media outreach at GCARD2, was from the beginning: how to blend the “traditional media” like newspapers, TV, radio and magazines more with the social media outreach. And to do so, we wished from the start we had good sources for “stories from the ground”. Our group of young agricultural professionals provided those sources..

In GCARD2, one of our wishes came true.

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Agriculture and forestry: mainstreaming research findings that work for communities

Partnerships are fundamental to conducting research. Douglas Sheil/CIFOR

PUNTA DEL ESTE, Uruguay (12 November 2012)_Small-scale farmers in many tropical nations depend primarily on their crops for survival, but without additional income generated by nearby forests, they would often be unable to weather through the hard times. This is why agricultural and forestry institutions should partner up when conducting research aimed at determining activities that will be most beneficial to communities and the environment, said scientists with the Center for International Forestry Research.

The perception often is that farmers only do one thing: farm.

“But growing or managing forests for wood and non-wood products, both for subsistence and sale is very common. “It is also a very sensible strategy, both in terms of maximising incomes and minimising risk,” said Peter Kanowski, Deputy Director General of CIFOR, at the Second Global Conference on Agricultural Research Development (GCARD2) in Uruguay. The conference discussed hopes for a future where agricultural innovation ratchets up production, and the welfare of small-scale farmers is assured. (Read the full blogpost on blog.cifor.org)

Brazil: Innovation and smallholder partnership provides nutritious foods to school children

Brazilian school-feeding programs buy 30% of their produce from smallholder farmers. Photo: WFP

Experts who gathered at the Second Global Conference on Agricultural Research for Development (GCARD2) in Uruguay say they want to march into a future where agricultural research remains fast paced, innovation ratchets up production, and the welfare of small-scale farmers is assured. They call for a science that not only fuels development but improves the lives of farmers producing on a small scale. Farmers must be equal partners in the goal to raise food production and improve lives.

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South-South exchange: Adapting ahipa in Africa

Ahipa: A promising new root crop for drought-prone regions of Central and West Africa.

Researchers from the International Potato Center (CIP) are working in Benin for a project designed to introduce ahipa, a highly nutritious root crop originating in the Andes of South America, as a promising food staple in drought-prone regions of Central and Western Africa. They are discovering that beyond its potential as a healthy food alternative for people, it may become valuable as livestock feed that not only improves farmers’ diets, but also their bottom line.

Giant African snails, considered a delicacy and sold in gourmet restaurants, crawl around a cement enclosure in Benin. It is the size of a large dining room table. Animal production scientist, Charles Pomalegni, pulls up two of the snails to show to researchers from the International Potato Center. They are as big as his fists.

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Bionic beans breeding better nutrition

Iron-biofortified bean varieties are combating anemia, the most widespread nutritional disorder in the world. Photo by Neil Palmer (CIAT).

For a poor fairytale farm-boy named Jack reduced to selling the family’s emaciated cow as a last resort, the stalk of a magical bean led to a golden goose and prosperity. For real-life farmers in developing countries, the treasure brought by iron-rich beanstalks comes in the form of higher yields and better nutrition.

More than 300 million people count on inexpensive beans as an important part of the diet, especially in Central and South America, where they originate, and in Africa.

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Appropriate knowledge for smallholder farmers will make the world more food secure

Women farmers in Andhra Pradesh, India listening to livestock advice via mobile phone.

Millions of food insecure farmers could improve their yields, incomes and resilience if they have access to the appropriate information and knowledge which further helps them make informed choices about their farm. Yet, despite  many new information and communication technologies (ICT) and successful pilot initiatives, reaching out to these farmers with the right information at the right time is still largely an unmet challenge. This is one of the reasons why the Second Global Conference on Agricultural Research for Development (GCARD2) conference highlighted this knowledge access issue as a priority to unlock the potential of smallholder agriculture for a food secure future.

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