Beth Roden

Championing the Next Generation of Change-Makers

People, planet, prosperity, peace. These are the pillars of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, which aims to eradicate poverty by the end of the next decade. Agriculture is key to all four– whether we’re working towards zero hunger, promoting responsible food production and consumption, or ensuring every farmer can make a decent living from their labor. But to achieve these ambitions, we must invest in the next generation of agricultural leaders.

Farming is a rapidly ageing profession. In the EU, just 6 percent of farm holders are under the age of 35. In contrast, farmers over the age of 55 account for over half. In Africa, the average farmer is 60 years old (despite the fact that 60 percent of the population is younger than 24!) This is a global trend. If it isn’t tackled, we will face a shortage of agricultural professionals just as food demand is increasing.

The first step to tackling this challenge is facing up to agriculture’s image problem. Unfortunately, farming is still seen by many as a sector that involves intense effort for little reward. People don’t necessarily associate high-tech innovation with agriculture. And young people don’t see it as a sector where they can flourish as digital natives.

All of these stereotypes are false. Agriculture involves far more than just farming: nowadays it demands input from biologists, chemists, engineers, and data analysts. Currently, there are young agricultural professionals researching how to grow food in space, monitoring plant health with drones, and even turning fish feces into farm food!

Beth Roden
Beth Roden
Beth Roden
Global Communications Head, Crop Science Division and Animal Health Business Unit of Bayer AG

The agricultural sector is also attractive to those who want to affect positive change in their communities, from business management students, to teachers, to doctors and lawyers. We see this in the varied backgrounds of those who attend our biennial Youth Ag Summit: a forum for young people who are passionate about food security to come together and develop solutions for feeding a hungry planet.

Many of our Youth Ag Summit alumni continue to advocate for greater youth involvement in agriculture: spreading the word amongst their peers, classmates and colleagues. But for the message to go mainstream, we also need to tackle the disconnect between those who consume food and those who produce it.

We all eat. Yet how many of us know exactly where it comes from, or how it arrived on our plates? Our passion for food rarely extends to the people who produced it. Bridging this knowledge gap from an early age is essential if we are to foster trust in modern farming methods and get more young people excited about agriculture.

Finally, to build a pipeline of future farming talent, we have to demonstrate to young people why agriculture matters to the long-term wellbeing of all. In an era of global uncertainty, young people want to make a sustainable difference to the world around them. My advice? Start small, but think big. Just as a farmer has to work in seasons but think in generations, young people can affect change by focusing on something concrete and close to home. Find a solution for that, then scale it up and, most importantly, share it.

The next generation has immense power and potential. At Bayer, we are proud to champion many of them through our Agricultural Education program. But to enable all young people to make a difference, everyone needs to be on board; from educators to industry leaders, from parents to politicians. Let’s stop talking at young people, and start listening to them, at every level and in every sector of society. The learners of today are the leaders of tomorrow – and tomorrow is already here.

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Thriving for Change - Championing Agriculture for a New Generation