That was the resounding answer of the Steering Committee of the Global Forum for Rural Advisory Services (GFRAS) after three YPARD members from the Philippines (Jim), Cameroon (Marc) and Trinidad and Tobago (Alpha) proposed the creation of the Youth Working Group that will work closely with GFRAS and Regional Rural Advisory Services (RAS) Networks.
This was during the 8th GFRAS Annual Meeting recently held at Ingham and Townsville, Queensland, Australia. After several days of discussions regarding how youth are taking an active role in RAS, some of us, youth participating in the conference gathered, discussed and agreed that we want to have a more concrete action, result, or output from all the substantial discussions.
Yes, the need for youth to come back to agriculture was felt globally as shared by different regional representatives. However, it’s critical to have a coordinating body for youth involvement in RAS. The youth discussion was constituted by Marc from YPARD Cameroon, Alpha from YPARD Trinidad and Tobago, Maria from the University of Illinois working with the USAID INGENAES program, myself, and Hika from Solomon Islands.
In the course of the discussions, we agreed to propose for youth representation at the Global Steering Committee level. But we understood that we needed to have an intermediate step which in this case would be the Youth Working Group. This group will coordinate with point persons in the Regional RAS networks on monitoring what youth initiatives are involved in RAS, or simply ‘extension work’; and then will report and coordinate with GFRAS Secretariat for relaying relevant information, as well as conduct globally supported youth-in-agriculture, specifically youth-in-RAS programs and projects.
As I teach in the university on agricultural systems research and extension, where the concept of participation is broken down to different levels according to Arnstein (1969). Sometimes youth can be given priority in participation just by having some programs for them, but not really with and by them. So, this step that GFRAS has taken in terms of supporting the Youth Working Group, which we proposed, is a collective gain for youth around the world involved either directly or indirectly with extension work, promoting agriculture as a profession, and being a key player in family farming for sustainable agricultural development.
I close with a call that we promote, what my friend Hlami Ngwenya calls “the P.E.R.F.E.C.T. Face of Agriculture”. This stands for Policy, Education, Research, Farming and/or Finance (or Business), Extension, Communications and Technology. We have to break the stereotype that agriculture is only farming when we promote it to youth. That means we should promote that youth can actively participate in the different aspects of agriculture not only as recipients, but also as initiators and decision-makers.
I believe this is a start of a huge wave of change globally, where youth are at the forefront of addressing current and projected problems today. Fellow YPARDians, this is our time!