July 19, 2017

Guest Commentary – Technology for Youth Engagement in the New Age of Agriculture

The Chicago Council on Global Affairs is pleased to present the 2017 Next Generation Delegates blog series. This year’s Delegation was comprised of 20 outstanding students from universities across the United States and around the world studying agriculture, food, and related disciplines. We were thrilled to feature these emerging leaders at the Global Food Security Symposium 2017, and look forward to sharing the exciting work of this extraordinary group.

By Margaret Hegwood, BS candidate, Biological Engineering, Purdue University, and 2017 Next Generation Delegate

Until a year ago, I had never considered a future in the agriculture industry. In fact, having a strong technology-oriented background, I often perceived the industry as “behind the times”—consisting only of traditional farming methods and making little use of today’s modern technology. In turn, I was unexcited by the idea of working in agriculture because I believed it lacked the engineering innovation that I craved in my education, career, and life. It was only a matter of time before I came to learn the truth about the vital connection between technology and agriculture—and the opportunities that lie at their intersection.  

Passionate about engineering technology for the purpose of international development, I became involved with Purdue’s Innovation for International Development (I2D) Lab during my first year of undergraduate studies. Facilitated by Purdue’s Global Engineering Programs, the I2D Lab supports the research of engineering faculty and students by connecting them with partners around the globe to solve major development challenges. The program also enables a series of experiences for undergraduates in the form of Global Design Teams, which allow students to be involved in research and development projects abroad—in countries such as Cameroon, Tanzania, Jordan, Colombia, and Kenya.  

It was through participating in one of these Global Design Teams that I first learned the relevancy of agriculture and food security in international development. In partnership with the St. Luke’s Foundation and the Kilimanjaro School of Pharmacy in Tanzania, I worked to create a universal method for testing the quality of substandard, spurious, fake, falsified, or counterfeit (SSFFC) medicines using High Performance Liquid Chromatography (HPLC). I had begun my research with the intent of learning how to create affordable and accessible medicine in developing countries, but quickly learned that it didn’t matter how exceptional the quality of the medicine I created was if people were still suffering from malnutrition.

The link between food security, nutrition, and medicine was solidified for me last March, at the annual I2D Lab Exposition, where professionals across various fields in international development came together to discuss the world’s greatest challenges. It was through Dr. John Lumkes, my university mentor and colleague, that I was exposed to the Land O’Lakes Global Food Challenge Emerging Leader Program, which has allowed me to explore how I can improve food security from the mindset of an engineer.

Since beginning my work with Land O’Lakes, it has become my personal goal to understand how we can not only improve access to food, but also how to provide people everywhere with the proper nutrition to live a healthy life. I work closely with ten other student interns from diverse backgrounds—including mechanical engineering, agribusiness, economics, and international affairs—to create solutions for improving food security both domestically and abroad. With the support of Land O’Lakes, we have researched topics including genetic modification, the public perception of agriculture, nutrition, food culture, risk assessment, and the relationship of each focus to food security and agricultural development. The knowledge I have gained and the skills I’ve learned have been invaluable.

Now, it’s difficult for me to imagine a career outside of agriculture and I find myself asking: How can we engage more young people in this incredible field?  

This same question has recently been the focus of the global agriculture industry. Despite the growing global “youth bulge” of 7 billion people under the age of 30, there continues to be little demonstrated youth interest in agriculture. Most interestingly, this lack of interest endures despite chronic youth unemployment. Global youth unemployment affects nearly 71 million youth worldwide. In the United States alone, 25,000 new jobs in the agriculture industry go unfilled each year. This is also particularly a concern in regions like sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia, where youth unemployment is 12.9 and 10.1 percent respectively. As an example, in Mongolia and Vietnam, agriculture comprises nearly a third of the available employment, but the percentage of young people pursuing agriculture-related degrees remains at only 2.35 and 7.99 percent. And although global opportunities in agriculture are increasing annually, the age of the common farmer continues to rise above 50, with the average age nearing 62 in South Africa, 57.1 in the United States, and 55 in the European Union.

What is the secret for engaging youth in agriculture?  

The answer is found in my own story: technology. Just as I became involved in agriculture through engineering innovation, so too can we educate young people about opportunities in agriculture through technology and science. Agriculture goes beyond the stereotype of farming to include food science, biotechnology, machine systems, resource management, and genetics research. Positive efforts to educate at all levels of education, including primary, secondary, and higher-level education, are key in bringing this idea to light in the minds of young people around the globe. Through investing to link technology and youth, we can ensure both the future of the agriculture industry and the success of future generations. And, with their creativity and mind-power, young people can also aid in leading us towards a more food secure future for the entire world.  

Read previous blogs by the 2017 Next Generation Delegates:

How Public and Private Partnerships Can Achieve a More Food-Secure World

Why a Practical Consensus on Animal Welfare Is Essential to Combating Climate Change 

Working Together in Times of Food Insecurity

To Vaccinate or Not to Vaccinate: The Dilemma for Chicken Farmers in Tanzania

Unifying the Next Generation through Open Data 

Food Security: Agriculture, Society, and Ecology 

Canada's Challenge: Ending Chronic Food Insecurity in the Far North

Nutrition Security in the 21st Century

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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Big Ideas and Emerging Innovations

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Big Ideas and Emerging Innovations

Highlighting approaches, technologies, and ideas that have the potential to radically advance global food security.


Big Ideas and Emerging Innovations

Highlighting approaches, technologies, and ideas that have the potential to radically advance global food security.