February 21, 2017

Guest Commentary – Can We Turn “Generation Yum” into “Generation Ag”?

By Robert Hunter and Yvonne Harz-Pitre, Co-Chairs of Farming First

A sleeping giant is waking in the form of a new generation of young people that is hungry for change. In the United States, millennials (those aged between 18-30) are now the largest demographic in the country. Their choices and opinions are going to have a huge influence on future trends. And guess what: a large majority of them are already obsessed with food.

Dubbed “Generation Yum” by author Eve Turow, young people in the developed world care much more about the quality, nutritional value, and provenance of their food than previous generations. This wave of interest comes at a critical moment. Our food system faces the colossal challenge of doubling production to feed a growing global population as natural resources dwindle and a changing climate takes its toll.

The agriculture sector has a duty to ensure that this growing interest in food is aligned with the realities and needs of agricultural production. So can the agricultural community encourage this powerful cohort not only to care about food, but to actually shape its future by taking up careers in agriculture?

At Farming First, we think this is not only possible, but essential. The first step is to shake off the stereotype that agriculture is just for aging farmers. Our recent I Am Agriculture campaign showcased dynamic and innovative young people involved in an array jobs that are making our food system fit for the future in order to inspire a new wave of professionals to follow in their footsteps.

We told the story of Victor Taleon, a food scientist at HarvestPlus, who is working with scientists to develop more nutritious crops to combat malnutrition in the developing world. We met Rolando Corrales, who works as a financial risk analyst at Root Capital, helping farmers access the credit they need to grow their businesses. We also featured Judy Nyawira, who might just have the coolest job of all – she is a producer on the hit African TV show “Shamba Shape Up,” which helps farmers all over East Africa sustainably grow more food. Our youth bloggers told us how exciting and rewarding their work in agriculture was – and they’ve never dug a single patch of soil.

In the developing world, the opportunity to involve young people across the value chain is just as great. Studies show that the population will continue to swell between now and 2030 and the majority of this growth will be in the developing world. 

In sub-Saharan Africa alone, there is an estimated youth population of around 200 million – all need of stable employment. By enabling young people to take on jobs in the food industry, we can solve the dual challenge of youth unemployment and food insecurity.

So how do we make this happen? We spoke to a range of experts to ask how they got into their agricultural careers, and how they think the youth should be inspired to join the ranks.

Many told us that a key step is to communicate to young people that agriculture presents a lucrative business opportunity. “70% of Africans are farmers,” Kinyua M’Mijjewe, Head of Corporate Affairs AME at Syngenta told us during our campaign. “All of them want to become better farmers; all of them need services, so there is huge opportunity to serve them.”

Others mentioned the need to tap into the youth’s passion for technology. In an opinion piece for the Daily Telegraph, Farming First supporter Sir Gordon Conway wrote that a career in agriculture could involve working with high-resolution satellite imagery at an organization like UK-based company Digital Globe. This enables farmers across the world to better understand the health of their crops, allowing them to take steps to increase productivity or overall yield. Or it could involve working at an organization like the Imperial College based initiative WINnERS, which develops state-of-the-art weather and climate-modeling technology to measure the risk exposure that retailers, buyers, banks and farmers will face in the future.

The opportunities in agriculture have never been greater, or more diverse. Our future food system is in the hands of the young—let us ensure they are empowered and equipped to make it fit for the next generation. 

About

The Global Food and Agriculture Program aims to inform the development of US policy on global agricultural development and food security by raising awareness and providing resources, information, and policy analysis to the US Administration, Congress, and interested experts and organizations.

The Global Food and Agriculture Program is housed within the Chicago Council on Global Affairs, an independent, nonpartisan organization that provides insight – and influences the public discourse – on critical global issues. The Council on Global Affairs convenes leading global voices and conducts independent research to bring clarity and offer solutions to challenges and opportunities across the globe. The Council is committed to engaging the public and raising global awareness of issues that transcend borders and transform how people, business, and governments engage the world.

Support for the Global Food and Agriculture Program is generously provided by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.

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