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.
I spent my childhood anticipating litters of piglets and spending snowy nights searching for cows that didn’t come in at feeding time because they’d stayed out to calve. For me, agriculture was always relevant, but even growing up in an agricultural community, few of my peers were interested in agriculture, and those that were tended to think of agriculture in much the same way I did. This singleness of perspective was turned out not to be unique: even later in life, when I was studying agriculture at college, my peers and I formed an echo chamber on the way we looked at agriculture and global food security efforts.
Recently, the Chicago Council on Global Affairs assembled diverse voices of change in Washington, DC, at the Global Food Security Symposium. There, as a part of the Next Generation Delegation, I was surrounded by peers who were scientists, engineers, researchers, economists, and entrepreneurs. One of my favorite conversations began when discussing the moment or opportunity that led us to the food security sector. I shared how I decided to work in the agriculture arena because it’s where I started—it’s where I felt at home, and it’s where I felt purposeful. This is the lens through which I have always viewed agriculture and food security. That’s when another delegate shared something that suddenly clicked for me. He said maybe we are all here not because we all first loved agriculture, but because agriculture was at the root of all of the issues we did love: poverty alleviation, community, economic development, international trade, nutrition, national security, and more. Global food security underpins every aspect of society.
The world is now home to the largest youth population in history, yet the world’s workforce is unprepared to provide meaningful employment to this rising generation. Without economic opportunities, the rising youth population is bound for stagnation, and vulnerable to migration, unrest, and extremism. This growing youth population will either be a major contributor to social disruption, political instability, and conflict, or they will shape the future of the world by impacting global economic, social, political, and food security. The determining factor? Our ability to engage youth in agricultural transformation.
It’s no surprise to anyone who works in agriculture that when trying to engage young people, we are fighting a stigma about agricultural employment. Our instinct is to try to communicate why we are passionate about our own interests, and we’ve seen this instinct reinforced by pushes for the importance of telling others our story as agriculturalists. My efforts to explain my fascination with agricultural biotechnologies or global trade policy have not inspired many budding agriculturalists, and as my friend pointed out in our discussion on how we got into agriculture, I think that’s because we’re approaching this backwards. It’s certainly important for us to tell our stories, but it’s more important to listen to the stories of others. Once we know what matters to young people, we show them the ways agriculture provides a meaningful context for advancing their passions.
My love for agriculture started on the farm, but it’s taken me far beyond that. Through meaningful investments into youth agricultural education, I have had opportunities to work extensively on the local level and in my community. The field of agriculture has allowed me to use my passions and talents for law and public policy to bridge experiences across the world: from working in global trade policy with the Foreign Agricultural Service in Tokyo, Japan, to proposing strategies for increased broadband deployment across rural Arkansas.
We know increased investments into agricultural development propel society forward. Continued funding and investment into programs that present agriculture as a meaningful career option for youth are critical. The National FFA Organization was instrumental for me to see how an agricultural career was a mechanism to grow my passion and purpose of global food security. In the ninth grade, I was competing in a speaking contest and delivering a speech on gene editing technology. Ten years later, as a result of an incredible internship opportunity with the United States Department of Agriculture, I was attending a meeting with international regulators on the same topic. These programs matter, and they deserve continued development and investment.
To engage youth in agricultural transformation, we must provide the thing youth are searching for: purpose. This “purpose generation” is the most entrepreneurial minded in history, and these young people want to engage their passions and talents through meaningful economic opportunities. To tap into this transformative talent, we don’t have to convince youth to work in agriculture. We only need to help them see how agriculture is the perfect context to apply their skills and passions to advance global food security. By doing that, today’s youth will empower a more a sustainable world by advancing global economic, social, political, and food security.
Read previous blogs from the 2018 Next Generation Delegates:
- How Can Diplomacy Prevent Food Price Shocks?, July 10, Craig Robinson, Australian National University.