100 Minds to Tackle Our Biggest Global Challenges – Together

As the saying goes, when it comes to solving a problem, “two heads are better than one”. So imagine what can be achieved with 100 minds! That’s the idea behind the Youth Ag-Summit taking place in Brussels this October; an event which brings together some of the brightest and best young leaders from across the globe to tackle what could be humanity’s most pressing problem yet: how to feed a hungry world.

By 2050, our planet will be expected to sustain 9 billion people, with much of the population growth concentrated in developing countries. To ensure each of these individuals has enough to eat, some radical changes in agricultural and farming practices will be needed. And who better to come up with innovative new solutions than the next generation of agricultural producers?

100 delegates aged between the ages of 18 and 25 have been chosen to take part in the Summit; a unique opportunity to work together to generate innovative, sustainable and actionable solutions to global food security challenges. The competition was fierce, with about 1,200 applications received from 96 countries for just 100 spots. Ultimately, the final selection was decided by each applicant’s submission essay: a 1,500 word article addressing the topic of food insecurity in the context of the UN’s new Sustainable Development Goals.

Bayer YouthAg summit
Bayer YouthAg summit
On September 25th 2015, countries adopted a set of goals to end poverty, protect the planet, and ensure prosperity for all as part of a new sustainable development agenda. Each goal has specific targets to be achieved over the next 15 years.

Applicants drew on their own personal and local experiences, as well as broader knowledge of the state of the sector, to discuss the current challenges and opportunities facing sustainable agricultural practices. And from Brazil to Botswana, the Netherlands to Nigeria, it’s clear that the final delegates (who hail from 49 different countries) have more in common than you might expect.

One of the recurring concerns that delegates expressed was the lack of interest and investment in farming as a career. With an increasingly ageing population, it’s vital to foster the farmers of the future. But with its long hours, low pay and physically demanding tasks, a life in agriculture doesn’t appeal to increasingly-educated young people. Not only does this create a looming labour shortage, it also means that young people’s natural interest in technology and innovation is rarely being applied to agriculture, leaving this sector lagging behind in the digital revolution.

Many delegates also noted that, even when young people are interested in pursuing a farming career, there’s very little support in terms of education, skills and training. Many national governments are failing to incentivise investment in agricultural innovation and upskilling, which in turn reduces the likelihood that young people will see farming as a rewarding career. Tackling these issues falls under the SDGs’ remit of ensuring quality education, promoting employment and decent work, and building resilient infrastructure via innovation.

Another one of the SDGS, tackling climate change, was also a recurring theme across the delegates’ essays. In both the developed and developing world, delegates could clearly point how the effects of climate change were being felt in their region, and how they would ultimately impact the supply of food. Many of the delegates were attuned to the harmful environmental impact of some agricultural practices, such as the excessive consumption of water and over-exploitation of the natural world. They pointed to the need to urgently switch to more sustainable farming practices – something we’re sure will be a topic of much discussion at the Summit!

delegates
delegates
Youth Ag-Summit delegates from around the world

Finally, all 100 delegates showed an awareness of the broader issues related to food production and consumption. Almost every delegate aired their concern about the huge amount of food that is wasted across the food chain, from food that spoils while being transported, to produce which is rejected from supermarkets for aesthetic reasons. Many of the essays quoted the shocking statistic that almost a third of the food produced worldwide is wasted – a situation which is clearly unsustainable. Ensuring sustainable consumption and production patterns is another of the UN SDGs, and something which can only be achieved if both food producers and consumers radically change our habits.

There were plenty of other gems across the selected essay submissions, many of which showed a keen interest in balancing local and global issues. We’ll be taking a closer look at these with our profiles of the delegates in the lead-up to October, so watch this space! In the meantime, you can find more about the 100 selected delegates here and more information about the Youth Ag-Summit here.

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From Sunflowers to Bean Fields