The Chicago Council on Global Affairs is pleased to present the 2018 Next Generation Delegates blog series. This year’s Delegation was comprised of 27 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 2018, and look forward to sharing the exciting work of this extraordinary group.
How do you get people interested in agriculture when so many have never experienced it? I recall once at a conference, one of the speakers asked the 300-plus audience members whether anyone had actually farmed before, and unsurprisingly, I saw no more than 10 hands. This disconnect is obvious in our field, where many are either policy experts, academics, or some combination of the two—professions that do not lend themselves well to the actual practice of farming. The same is true for our generation, one where we get our food from supermarkets or delivery without having to consider the sheer complexity of the global supply chain. Accentuate these disconnects with the challenge of distance and institutional barriers common in developing nations and it is easy to see why there has been so little youth engagement with the critical issue of food security.
As an entrepreneur who created a nationwide logistic system in the Philippines to reduce cost-to-market for farmers, I believe there are three solutions that can help solve make agriculture “sexy.”
First, vertical expansion. Vertical expansion are direct innovations that tie into the fundamentals of agriculture: planting, growing, and harvesting. While these are not practices that are common to millennials, the technology that can leverage them are. By tapping into interest in these technologies, policy makers and incubators can encourage their use towards agricultural problems. Take for example planting, a common challenge has been the selection of the appropriate crops given possible weather or soil conditions. Using drone technology, we are now able to produce 3D maps that can help farmers plan fertilizer use. The same is true for planting, irrigation, or harvesting, with the versatility and declining costs of drones making them a persuasive innovation. Whereas sharing large agriculture machinery might be difficult given poor infrastructure and low density in remote areas, drones can circumvent those problems easily.
But drones are just one example of several technologies that have received significant media attention, but others, such as 3D printing also hold the possibility to revolutionize essential parts of agriculture. Allowing the youth to spearhead innovations in a realm they are familiar with lessens the fear that many might have of entering a foreign market.
Second, horizontal expansion. In contrast to vertical expansions, horizontals focus on the entire supply chain, from the research of higher yield seeds to the last mile packaging and delivery of end products. As an innovator in the field, the advantages of horizontal expansion for the youth is that it tends to be services that they are already familiar with. Take for example logistics in Manila, as one of the most congest cities on the planets, traffic jams for hours is a common experience to anyone that commutes or relies on regular deliveries for their business. When I chose to focus on consolidate trucks through our booking app, I inadvertently also solved a problem that farmers face. The same technology that allows millennials to move houses or ship cargo is the same that powers the ability of farmer’s to request pickup of produce or livestock.
Granted, we faced additional barriers as we tried to cater our technology to the specific needs of farmers. Ensuring that they understand our technology, overcoming problems of distance, and even something as simple as providing energy access so they can utilize their cellphones were all problems we had to solve. While were not always successful, the model of horizontal expansion allows youth to work on the myriad of problems all along the supply chain, directly and indirectly contributing to food security. Of course, policies can play a large role by encouraging innovation in critical sectors of storage and transportation through the creation of grants or funding that can help accelerate existing innovations.
And third, refinement expansion. One of the more common and easiest way to get into agriculture is to refine existing raw products to produce value-added goods. In developing nations such as the Philippines, the production of dried mangoes, coconut oil, or even simple snacks made from local ingredients have been a staple of communities for decades. Though it occupies a lower scale on the ladder in terms of complexity or potential upsides, it will be a mistake to underestimate the benefits it can provide. Given its low barrier to entry, it is possible to encourage such activities as part of vocational training that can be provided by local governments, providing benefits both to farmers by increasing their markets while helping youth develop valuable skills in entrepreneurship.