Liam Condon By 2050, the world will be home to nearly ten billion people. If we are serious about ending food insecurity, our food production will need to increase by 50 percent to match demand. Yet a changing climate, declining arable land, and ongoing urbanization means we need to produce more food with fewer resources and do that in an environmentally sustainable manner. It’s essential that we invest today in the agricultural professionals of tomorrow – which is exactly what the Youth Ag-Summit is all about. Risper, what’s your connection to agriculture?
Risper Njagi Although I’m currently studying law at university – thanks to sponsorship from the Equity Group Foundation – I was born and bred in Central Kenya in a region where the main economic activity is farming, although most of it is subsistence farming. Many people don’t own their own land, which means they lack a consistent source of income and often struggle to make ends meet. My mom has always been a small-scale farmer, so I’ve been directly involved in agriculture my whole life.
Liam Condon Small-scale farmers like your mother are the backbone of global food production. In fact, 80 percent of the farmland in sub-Saharan Africa and Asia is managed by smallholders. These farms are providing up to 80 percent of the food supply there. But they often face major challenges related to lack of resources, low productivity and lack of market access.
We need to show young people that agriculture can be a fascinating, responsible and highly diversified profession.
Risper Njagi True. In Kenya, we have very little education about best farming practices, too, and it’s often very expensive to implement new techniques, or very difficult to access finance for new resources. This means that most Kenyan farmers still use traditional methods, which deliver limited yields and very little profit.
Liam Condon That’s a really good point. Many farmers in developing countries remain constrained by limited access to finance or capital. Cross-sector partnerships can help; our Farm to Market Alliance with the UN World Food Program commits to purchasing from smallholder farmers in order to link them with the extended value chain. But there needs to be an even greater focus on investing in the next generation.
Risper Njagi There has to be. Currently, many young people don’t want to be associated with agriculture; they see it as an “old school” profession. In Kenya, young people want to be engineers, bankers, or doctors – not farmers. Yet at the same time, Kenya is a very young nation, and our young people have the most energy and modern knowledge. They have the know-how to improve agriculture, but they often won’t do it because it’s a stigmatized sector.
Liam Condon From my perspective, we need to show young people that agriculture can be a fascinating, responsible and highly interesting profession to convince them that they are the solution the sector needs. We need to emphasize that agriculture is not only exciting, it can also be a very rewarding job with a sustainable source of income.
Risper Njagi And we should reach out to those still in school, but we should also try and connect with older youth, who might be unemployed or under-educated. If we create opportunities for them to work on an agricultural project, or go back to school and retrain, we can show them that the sky is the limit. I also want to use the experience I’ve had to reach my own generation, in my own space. I want to create awareness of how cool agriculture can actually be, in Kenya and further afield. I want to help influence global youth to participate more in agriculture. I’m also excited to help roll out the ‘Thrive for Change’ project along with my nine fellow team members. We all feel that our idea is sustainable, that it’s workable – and we are excited to make it a reality.
Liam Condon The “Thrive for Change” project you worked on at the Youth Ag-Summit and that Bayer will be funding is focused on bridging the gender gap in agriculture. Women make up almost half the agricultural labor force in developing countries, yet they face challenges accessing the same opportunities as men.
Risper Njagi Indeed. Small-scale farming in Kenya is mostly done by women like my mother; that’s how it has always been. But it’s subsistence farming, and not enough to feed a whole country. We use the most traditional methods – the same old tools, the same old seeds. Female farmers need tools to enable them to be better agricultural practitioners. But I’m optimistic that the future for women in agriculture will improve.
Liam Condon In this regard, I recently came across impressive figures of the FAO: If female farmers around the world had the same access to land, education and loans as male farmers, crop yields could be increased by 20 to 30 percent. So, it is a question of education and creating equal opportunities. Our company’s commitment to social responsibility is shown through our daily collaboration with smallholder farmers across the world. We support farmers and help them to grow more food and market their produce more effectively. For now, we wish you all the best for your project and for the future. Please keep up your passion for agriculture during the realization of your projects and let’s stay in touch!