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.
Agriculture’s image problem
My mate Michael couldn’t stop laughing. I had just told him that I was going to Sydney University to study agricultural science. “What are you going to do? Build scarecrows?”
The stigma surrounding careers in agriculture spreads beyond the suburbs of Australia. I met fellow agriculture students Adrian Bantgeui (Philippines), Toluwase Olukayode (Nigeria) and Cassandra Proctor (USA) at the International Rice Research Institute in the Philippines. Despite different backgrounds, we all shared similar stories:
- Adrian shared that Filipino students are belittled for studying “agriculture lamang” (Tagalog for ‘only agriculture’).
- Cassandra lamented that American youths ask “ew, why study plants? That’s so boring”.
- Toluwase described how Nigerian agriculture is perceived to be an “industry for poor people”.
It seems that careers in agriculture are universally mistaken for not being sophisticated, interesting or lucrative. This is hard to believe considering avoiding a global food shortage is one of our generation’s great challenges. A panel was assembled at the Chicago Council Food Security Symposium in Washington DC to discuss how we can “dial in a new way of thinking about agriculture as a career of first choice”.
How not to sell careers in agriculture
The instinctive strategy for selling careers in agriculture is to talk about our unique interests in it. Too many times I’ve tried to share my love for soil using passion, humour and enthusiasm. You’d be surprised how good my joke about soil health is! Even so, my efforts are generally met with the response, “that’s nice but agriculture is not for me”.
There is more to agriculture than soil. Agriculture is about land rights, social science, animal husbandry, education, trade policy, plant pathology, anthropology, drone technology… the list continues. In view of this, agriculture can be for everyone! The challenge is not to force our agricultural passions onto young people but to make agriculture accessible to their passions. How do we do this? From my perspective, careers in agriculture are characterized by two words that resonate with my generation:
Word 1: Meaning
Agriculture is about putting food on people’s plates and clothes on people’s backs. Sustainably growing more nutritious food with less resources enables farmers to support their families, protect the environment and nourish their communities. Agriculture is a powerful tool for contributing to things that matter: poverty alleviation, environmental conservation and food security. What career choice could be more meaningful than that?
Word 2: Excitement
An education in agriculture not only empowers you to improve the world, it lets you truly see the world. Since commencing my undergraduate degree in 2014, I have worked on a salmon farm in Tasmania, researched soil microbiology in Canberra, interned at the International Rice Research Institute in the Philippines, joined an anti-food wastage society in central Sydney, attended a food security conference in Washington DC and attempted in vain to plough a rice field with buffalo while studying in the mountains of Sri Lanka. The wide-ranging opportunities in agriculture are not limited to building scarecrows, which would also be fun.
How to sell careers in agriculture to young people
Escaping normality and doing something meaningful appeals to my generation. I do not subscribe to the belief that today’s young people are self-obsessed. Young people that I know want more from their career than a comfortable lifestyle and a stable salary. They want to travel the world and they want to make it better. A career in agriculture is a grounded mechanism for doing exactly that.
The photos in this blog show Adrian, Cassandra and Toluwase wearing a t-shirt bearing the words: “magatnim ay di biro” (Tagalog for ‘farming is not a joke’). I believe that young people will own this message if we sell careers in agriculture as careers of excitement and meaning.
Read previous blogs by the 2017 Next Generation Delegates: