“We want to bring young leaders together to exchange ideas, their expertise and also to share this passion for what really drives us to feed this planet, this global population. We believe that innovation really stems from creativity, but also collaboration and – I can’t stress it enough – also passion for what you do.” With these words, the 2015 Youth Ag-Summit (YAS) was opened in Canberra, Australia, by Bernd Naaf, Head of Business Affairs & Communications at Bayer Crop Science. This extraordinary event brought together 100 delegates from 33 countries with a simple, common goal: finding ways to feed a hungry planet.
YAS was hosted by Bayer along with the Future Farmers Network (FFN) and follows its inaugural summit held in Canada in 2013. The idea was simple: to provide a platform for youth to discuss the challenges of feeding a growing world population and inspire them to become instruments of global change. To achieve this, the program followed the simple but engaging themes of innovation, sustainability and leadership.
In order to be one of the 100 finalists selected to attend the YAS in Canberra, delegates had to compose an essay on global food security needs. Agricultural Engineering student Laura Checa used her essay to focus on the lack of young farmers in her home country of Spain.
“We have a problem in that there aren’t as many young farmers as there should be. People are not interested in agriculture because it’s a sector that faces far too many problems. Also, in developed countries, we don’t value food because we are far too disconnected from nature. That leads to food waste. On the other hand, in developing countries they don’t have good storage facilities so there’s a lot of food waste going on,” she explains. In her essay, Checa proposed taking urban gardening to the next level, with cities replacing ornamental vegetation with fruit trees and vegetables. This would not only tackle food waste, but it would also bring the public closer to agriculture.
I would really like to find a way to make people aware that food should not be wasted.
‘3 Little Things’ to Make a Difference
Hu Pu is from Beijing, China, where he spends plenty of time in laboratories working towards a PhD, so it was only natural that his essay would focus on scientific solutions. “I’m a nerd in the lab, and I‘m really interested in solutions to solve the problems of hunger, so I wrote a technical essay on synthetic biology, something which is becoming more and more popular. It’s about using genetically modified (GM) technology to solve problems. For example, we could reduce the salt content in land to convert it to normal land to grow plants,” Pu explains.
While Pu is convinced on the merits of the technology, he says there is still plenty of work ahead to fully develop it, not the least of which is shifting public perception. “In China, there is a growing trend that people, especially famous people, want to say something anti-science, let alone anti-GMO, so this technology has some significant issues. I wanted to write an essay about it and convince people that it’s not as harmful as they may think and we should develop this technology because we need it,” says Pu.
U.S. delegate Edward Silva had a more of an on-the-farm focus for his essay, which is not surprising given his family farms almonds, wine grapes and has some cattle in California. Silva says there are 500 million small-scale farmers around the world who will need significant support to help them play a role in feeding 9 billion people by 2050. “The core of my essay was thinking about how we leverage the ability of entrepreneurs to develop more accessible and appropriate technology for small-scale farmers around the world. It’s tough for small-scale farmers to be as efficient, effective and viable as large-scale operations, but they could be much better in terms of overall sustainability and viability with technology that allowed their job to be easier,” Silva explains. “This means they’re not wasting time doing menial tasks. They can actually focus on the bigger picture of the farm and ultimately be more productive.”
Youth Visionaries in Action
At the start of the week, delegates turned their attention to the 15 top themes identified from the 100 winning essays. As Silva explains, the idea was to prioritize the themes into a top five leader board, with delegates to vote each day on the list. “The 100 delegates were split into different groups to debate and have conversations about which topics were the most important to them and which answered the question of how today’s youth can have the most impact in feeding 9 billion people by 2050. The top five themes fluctuated during the week but ones that consistently rated highly were education and skill building, as well as communication about the value of careers and skill building for youth. Those themes weren’t surprising,” Silva says, “but the other ones that have come up which were more surprising to me were R&D for innovation and food production with new production systems.”
By the end of the week, the top five topics – education, communication, responsible and sustainable consumption, innovation and personal leadership – were set and formed the basis of the Canberra Youth Ag Declaration. This important document, which includes a number of solutions and actions, was presented at the United Nation’s Committee on World Food Security in Rome in October 2015 by Australian delegate Laura Grubb and Kenyan delegate Samba Ouma Zablon. The declaration, however, is not the only outcome of the YAS, with each delegate accepting the ‘3 Little Things’-Challenge, which sees each person setting small goals to make a difference in their community.
I will devote myself to doing little things that may be beneficial to society, especially in China.
Laura Checa hopes to start her ‘3 Little Things’-Challenge by creating a bee-friendly garden in her Spanish hometown. “I really feel like we’re not very conscious about bees even though they’re extremely important for pollination and agriculture in general and the diversity of crops, so we should really preserve that. Secondly, I’m really concerned about food waste, so inside my neighbourhood I would really like to find a way to make people aware that food should not be wasted,” she says.
For Hu Pu, the YAS has been a coming-of-age in some ways, introducing him to a world outside China and making him realize he has plenty to offer. Pu will start the challenge by volunteering in an agricultural NGO in China. “I always only thought of my own stuff, my personal affairs. I cared little about others, let alone society. But after the summit, I realize I have a responsibility I should bear, so I will devote myself to doing little things that may be beneficial to society, especially in China. Secondly, I’m hoping to convince my parents that GMOs are not as harmful as they may think. After this summit, I’ve got the confidence and the patience to try to convince them. The third of my ‘3 Little Things’ is to simply finish every meal that I order or serve up. It’s a shame that here at the summit we are trying to figure out how to feed a hungry planet, but we still have a lot of food waste, especially in many developed countries,” Pu concludes.
Meanwhile in California, Edward Silva will start his ‘3 Little Things’-Challenge by following one of the key priorities from YAS – education. First, he plans to start a local agro-tourism business to help farmers and consumers engage with each other. Second on his ‘to-do’ list is to highlight the work of 30 YAS delegates around the world through a food movement publication run by the U.S. organisation Food Tank.
By his own admission, however, it’s his final ‘3 Little Things’-Challenge that is perhaps the most audacious and also the most exciting. “There’s this incentive-based competition platform called HeroX, where if there’s a big problem I want to solve – maybe something specific within global food insecurity – I can put it on this platform and crowd-fund money as an incentive to solve that problem. This way, engineers, architects, scientists, non-scientists and really anyone can apply to put their best solutions forward for the problem I pose. If it’s chosen, then they get this prize. It’s a really nice way to engage people into solving actual problems,” he says.
YAS 15: The Results Are In
As the horizon sets on the second Youth Ag-Summit and delegates head to all areas of the globe armed with skills and confidence to make a real difference, the question can be asked: Has it worked? Hu Pu answers that question: “The summit has been so well-organized that I can see the sparks flying between the delegates. Maybe we cannot figure out the main solution or the promising projects to solve these questions, but it was great that all the delegates from around the world focused on the real problems that we face.” The summit, for Pu and the others, has had a lasting impact: “We will be leaders. In fact, the burden of human welfare will lie on our shoulders so it’s great that we can have this awareness at such a young age and we still have time and opportunity,” Pu concludes.
I plan to start a local agro-tourism business to help farmers and consumers engage with each other.