Cassandra Hayward

To Learn from Youth, We Must Listen

If I could ask policymakers one thing, it would be for them to genuinely care about all the people they represent – including young people. Too many policymakers have the mentality that youth voices and concerns are invalid. Even worse, it is a common occurrence for youth to be showcased or mentioned in policy discussions as mere tokens, without being given truly meaningful opportunities to contribute. Policymakers are at the forefront of drafting our future but substantial policy and financial support for youth trying to get involved remains minimal.

This is a wasted opportunity. By 2030, our planet will need to feed nine billion people. This poses a huge challenge for agricultural production and food security – one which requires collaboration and diverse perspectives to create innovative, impactful solutions. This cannot be achieved without equipping the next generation with support to succeed. I believe it is a double standard to expect a generation to deliver results without being adequately supported. It is difficult to start a project if you don’t have accessible tools to begin with. If we want to see change, we must provide youth with institutional knowledge, financial investment and opportunities. Only in this way will the agricultural sector be able to access and benefit from new perspectives and experiences.

Growing up in an urban community, I once believed that I had no business getting involved in agriculture, given my lack of practical experience or background. If you are not already involved in agricultural practices, it is difficult to find accessible opportunities to learn more about food security. Urbanization means many people, especially younger people, feel disconnected from where their food comes from. Additionally, in many parts of the world, learning about food systems is not a requirement in schools. I was only able to discover my passion for working on zero hunger solutions thanks to the support of 4-H Canada and the Youth Ag Summit.

During the 2017 Youth Ag Summit, Cassandra Hayward from Canada smiles for the camera ahead of pitching her team’s project idea, ARGIKUA.
During the 2017 Youth Ag Summit, Cassandra Hayward from Canada smiles for the camera ahead of pitching her team’s project idea, ARGIKUA.
Cassandra Hayward,
2017 Youth Ag Summit delegate

Taking part in the Youth Ag Summit allowed me to work together with like-minded peers on a project to tackle food insecurity in the context of gender equality. We created Agrikua, a non-profit organization aiming to provide post-secondary female students in Kenya with agricultural, business and legal knowledge through an online platform. This platform will also create networking opportunities, highlight funding and scholarship opportunities, and provide free training resources. We hope to cultivate a group of female mentors and leaders who can drive a sustainable cycle of local empowerment within their own communities.

Recently I was invited, along with four other Youth Ag Summit alumni, to represent Agrikua and the Youth Ag-Summit community by hosting a stand at the European Development Days (EDD). This year’s event was themed “Women and Girls at the Forefront of Sustainable Development: protect, empower, invest” – which fit perfectly with Agrikua’s goals. Visitors to the stand, who included representatives from national governments, the United Nations, the European Investment Bank, and Members of the European Parliament, were eager to hear about the project, and gave us plenty of encouragement and ideas for future opportunities.

The most inspiring part of the European Development Days was how it was entirely dedicated to supporting women and girls, and celebrating progress made towards gender equality. If politicians and organizations want more youth participation, young people need to be similarly included in such conversations and be given the room to contribute on topics that matter to them. Overall, the conference demonstrated how women and girls can shine when they are provided with accessible platforms. I believe that this was the most important takeaway, as we hope to provide such a platform through Agrikua. Being able to meet individuals who are experienced in the field and getting advice from them was an invaluable opportunity for our team.

With the world facing an increasingly broad range of food security challenges, young people need to be at forefront of sustainable and meaningful progress. And we are eager to do it. But we can’t do so on our own. The next generation of agricultural pioneers needs mentorship and support. If properly prepared, I believe that our generation, shaped by technology and globalization, will be the one to make zero hunger a reality.

Cassandra Hayward grew up in Dartmouth, Canada and is currently a fourth-year student at the University of King’s College. An alumnus of both the Youth Agricultural Summit and 4-H Canada, Cassandra has since gone on to represent and support youth nationally through being an executive member of Food Secure Canada’s Youth Caucus.

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Thriving for Change - Championing Agriculture for a New Generation