July 12, 2018 | By Amie Alexander

Next Generation 2018 - Engaging Youth in Agriculture: Challenging the Purpose Generation

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:




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.


1,000 Days Blog, 1,000 Days

Africa Can End Poverty, World Bank

Agrilinks Blog

Bread Blog, Bread for the World

Can We Feed the World Blog, Agriculture for Impact

Concern Blogs, Concern Worldwide

Institute Insights, Bread for the World Institute

End Poverty in South Asia, World Bank

Global Development Blog, Center for Global Development

The Global Food Banking Network

Harvest 2050, Global Harvest Initiative

The Hunger and Undernutrition Blog, Humanitas Global Development

International Food Policy Research Institute News, IFPRI

International Maize and Wheat Improvement Center Blog, CIMMYT

ONE Blog, ONE Campaign

One Acre Fund Blog, One Acre Fund

Overseas Development Institute Blog, Overseas Development Institute

Oxfam America Blog, Oxfam America

Preventing Postharvest Loss, ADM Institute

Sense & Sustainability Blog, Sense & Sustainability

WFP USA Blog, World Food Program USA


| By Janet Fierro

Guest Commentary - Rural Niger Women find Opportunity and Hope through Innovative Business Model

When researchers set out to find natural ways to manage a crop-destroying pest in sub-Saharan Africa cowpea fields they knew the results could have significant positive impact on smallholder farmers. What they may not have expected was the significance of the cottage industry it inspired and the entrepreneurial spirit of the rural women of Niger who led it.