Being from Brazil, Kalinka Gonzales and Rafael Dias Riedel didn’t have to travel far in the geographical sense to attend the 2019 Youth Ag Summit in Brasilia. However, their journeys to pursue their shared purpose of feeding a hungry planet continue. Here are their stories.
I have always been told that the youth are the future, but I spent too much time believing I needed to wait to be part of the change. That changed when I heard about the Youth Ag Summit (YAS) and realized I could be part of the change now. The future is here.
I started thinking of a project that would combine biotechnology and the UN Sustainable Development Goals. It was important to keep these goals in mind because I believe that’s the difference young minds bring to the table: the pursuit of sustainability. After all, what is the point of creating solutions for challenges we face now, but would cause new problems later? I started researching to come up with an idea but needed to properly define a problem and understand its causes first.
About half of the world population suffers from some form of malnourishment. Vitamin deficiency is part of the problem - even in developed countries. At the beginning of the 20th century, the use of chemical fertilizers started to improve food production, but environmental issues started to arise, such as groundwater contamination, generation of greenhouse effect gases, and the high fossil fuel demand to produce fertilizers. One alternative to chemical fertilizers is nitrogen-fixing bacteria. Considering that some other microorganisms can naturally increase plant vitamin content, my project intended to genetically modify nitrogen-fixing bacteria so that they can also acquire that trait. Thus, we would be able to use less land to produce nutrient-rich food more sustainably.
Luckily, my project was one of the 100 chosen ones, showing me that I really could be part of the change I desired. Last November I got on a plane to Brasilia, the capital of my home country Brazil, to attend the Youth Ag Summit. There I met 99 brilliant young minds from 45 different countries, all of whom had an incredible project and the same goal: ensuring our growing population has enough food.
Coming from different backgrounds, both professionally and personally, allowed us to drive change from diverse starting points. I made friendships I’ll cherish forever and built an important network of connections that will help me follow a path to a greener and hunger-free future. I hope my project impacted my friends as much as theirs positively impacted me.
What have I learned from YAS? Find your purpose and people with similar interests because we can promote change as a community. The youth is not only the future, we are the present too.
Rafael Dias Riedel
Have you ever stopped to think about your purpose? Usually when asked this question, people notice that they don’t have a clear purpose, or even a mission that they want to pursue. There are others who would answer that they have one even though they may not know exactly how they are going to get there but are working hard to do so. That’s where I feel like I belong. Attending the Youth Ag Summit – among many other things – made me realize how important it is to know what your purpose is.
Raised on a farm in Midwest Brazil, my father always taught me the value of producing food and helping to “feed the world.” Later, in order to seek something different than what I’ve always experienced, I decided to move to Rio de Janeiro to study business administration. Upon moving to Rio, I slowly started asking myself about my purpose and what legacy I would like to leave. I wanted to be connected to my story and where I came from. My purpose is to contribute to feeding a hungry world.
But how would I be able to do that?
I started searching for and reading about sustainable ways to produce food and new technologies in the agriculture sector. I discovered controlled environment agriculture. At first, it seemed like an odd idea for me, but I couldn’t stop thinking about the subject. How cool is it to grow plants inside cities, simulating a perfect growing environment for them, using 90 percent less water and having simpler logistics than a traditional farm? This seemed like the perfect business for me.
That’s how I had the idea to build an urban farm in Rio. A few months after I started building a business plan, I found out about the Youth Ag Summit, an event sponsored by Bayer Crop Science, to promote solutions for a hungry world and the young minds behind them. I knew I had to participate, so I applied and was very fortunate to be selected.
I went to the event not knowing what to expect and came back with a crystal-clear mind of what to do. The conference was spectacular. The speeches, the workshops, the farm tour and the other events all contributed to my personal and professional development. I learned so much about innovation, sustainability, leadership and how I can make a difference in the world that by the end of the three days it seemed that I went through a semester in college.
Besides learning a lot, there is also something valuable that I took from YAS: connections. In those three days, I met and exchanged ideas with 99 other young minds who are also trying to make a change in the food and agriculture industry and pursuing the mission of feeding a hungry planet. To meet, collaborate and even become friends with some of them was probably one of the most important things about the Summit.
Reflecting on the Summit, I now see how it was important for me to meet other people who were there for the same purpose as I was. It made me realize that it is always important to have a North Star even if sometimes we don’t know how we are going to accomplish our goals. Being a part of the YAS community motivates me to move forward with my projects and always reminds me of how important it is to try and make a change in our world.
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