Education and Agriculture Side by Side
How can the youth be ready to deal with the challenges of agriculture? In general, in the face of obstacles, we have two options: dodging them or creating ways to overcome them. With the increasing digital transformation in agriculture, the sector has invested precisely in the second path not only to raise the productivity of each hectare, but also to do so in a sustainable manner. In 2017, more than US$ 10 billion in technology was invested in the sector, which is responsible for feeding and employing 40 percent of the world's population, according to the latest report from the international investment fund AgFunder. The current scenario is very appealing to university students who are increasingly willing to make their mark in the world.
Considering a visible shift in student profile, agricultural education institutions have begun to position themselves in a new way to prepare young professionals who will work in the fields today and in the near future throughout the world. Universities have adapted to receive a generation that is more connected and engaged around social and environmental issues.
To that end, the focus of university agricultural courses has not been to disseminate content in the classroom or to carry out agriculture as in the old days. Nowadays, one of the great evolutions is the role of the professors who have become mentors; guiding students in the development of essential technical and behavioral skills, and preparing them to better face the new challenges of agriculture.
In the ESALQ (Luiz Queiroz Higher School of Agriculture) at the University of São Paulo, in order to make teaching more dynamic and promote a more productive relationship between students and professors, it was necessary to reduce the workload in the classroom so that students could perform extraclass activities that would help them better experience work at farms, laboratories and agricultural technology companies. The opening of the grid for practical experiments proves to be stimulating on both sides, and has already shown promising results both inside and outside the university.
This experience has been proven at the 1st Agtech Startups Brazil Census, conducted by ESALQ itself, and shows that 21% of the entrepreneurs got their idea to create an agribusiness startup when they were still studying.
In this same path, Esalqtec, the ESALQ incubator, acts as an important innovation channel for students and promotes technology and agricultural science projects. It is maintained by undergraduate students, with ideas emerging from partnerships between them and faculty members. An example of this successful initiative is the Bug startup, which produces and markets biological pest control products; it was created in 2001 and during its first years of work it was located at Esalqtec premises. In 2014, it was voted one of the most innovative technology startups in the world by Technology Pioneers, an award that has already recognized companies like Google and Twitter.
This proactive profile of the students is perceived by us, professors. From the first year on, we have identified their eagerness to leave the city and head to work in the countryside, which they are even more attracted to do by the new technologies and innovations available in agriculture. As one of the largest universities in Latin America, ESALQ is attentive to all of this, and pioneered disciplines aligned to the current and future demands of the sector, such as remote sensing data collection systems, monitoring of all stages of the agricultural production, and digital resources such as drones, field sensors and nanosensors, among others.
Education and agriculture working side by side are creating opportunities for young people helping them develop skills and knowledge, to be able to work with the technological innovations that are revolutionizing the work in field. However, today's agriculture is not just sitting down at a computer and extracting data. It is necessary to engage, analyze and disseminate information along a human relations chain and to manage agribusiness in an increasingly productive and sustainable way.
The future of the new agriculture professionals, demands that students leave the universities equipped with the skills to take a sharper look at the market and the world. And Esalq, with more than 117 years of teaching focused on agriculture, will continue to be daring; this is how universities are contributing to making Brazil the main agricultural frontier in the world: helping young professionals shape their future and ensure that agriculture continues to be the engine of the economy.