First time in Europe
Mentally I was going to make the best out of everything, no matter what the outcome. From leaving my front door in Kathmandu, Nepal, it took me two days to reach my final destination – Leuven, Belgium. When I finally got there the main thought on my mind, repeating like a broken record was, “besides having the opportunity to visit a new land untouched by the soles of my feet before, I hope this experience is going to be mind-blowing and life changing.” It was my first trip abroad and I was really excited to meet new people, learn more about the perception of agriculture from youth living in developed countries, and share my experience as a young agri-preneur in the GFAR-YPARD Young Agripreneur Project (YAP).
I was in Leuven for the International Conference for Youth in Agriculture organized by the International Association of Students of Agriculture and Related Science (IAAS). The conference was supported by GFAR, IFAD, GHENT UNIVERSITY, KU LEUVEN and SYNGENTA. Its aim was to provide a joint platform for various stakeholders (international organizations, private sector, research institutions and young students and agriculturists) to discuss the engagement of youth in agriculture, policy making and zero food waste.
When I entered the hostel accommodation arranged for the participants of the conference I met Constantine Sarafis from IAAS who was waiting to greet the participants. What a welcome! After some rest, I and the other participants headed for KU Leuven, the conference venue.
As part of the conference, GFAR, on the invitation from IAAS, had organized a social media boot camp . Although I could only manage to attend the second day of the boot camp, as soon as I entered the training room I felt motivated and inspired. Leading the boot camp was Peter Casier from the GFAR Secretariat. I have been associated with Peter through the YAP project and was thrilled to meet him in person. Peter’s appreciation of my YAP blog posts and his presentations at the social media boot camp are typical of his energy and enthusiasm. At the end of the day I was feeling so happy to be a part of this conference.
It got even better on the second day at ICYA 2017
You might be wondering what the first indication of this was. It was the fact that I was greeted with faces filled with enthusiasm, hope and an eagerness to make a change. The room was full of young students and young people who study agriculture and related sciences. It was really a meeting of youth from all over the world: Belgium, Netherlands, Czech Republic, France, Kenya, Sri Lanka, Nigeria, and many more countries.
The conference tackled three different topics on each day of the conference. Mornings started with presentations on the topics with the afternoons working in groups to discuss and decide on actions for those topics. I particularly liked the sessions on urban farming and women in agriculture because what I learnt from these session can be directly implemented here in Nepal.
The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) has reported that 800 million people worldwide grow vegetables fruit or raise animals in cities, producing what the Worldwatch Institute reports to be an astonishing 15 to 20 percent of the world’s food.
By leveraging environmental credentials, such as local, sustainable and transparent production, a new wave of urban agriculture enterprises are justifying a premium price for agricultural products. But while a higher price point might better reflect the true cost of food production and help build a viable business, it can also exclude lower income groups, fueling the perception that local, sustainably produced food is the preserve of food elitists.
Zjef Van Acker who works on vertical farming, gave us insights about how hi-tech urban farming is booming in cities like New York. In our follow up discussions we were divided into different groups to initiate new project ideas and promote these among the other participants. We identified a number of key challenges including costly food production and easily accessible technologies like a range of modular, app-controlled, indoor hydroponic growing systems.
We concluded that for urban agriculture to move beyond serving a niche group of people and make a real impact on the global food system, it will have to engage a wider demographic.
Without radically changing the way we produce and consume food, we are unlikely to attain the twin objectives of feeding humanity and living within biophysical planetary boundaries within which we can sustainably use the earth’s resources. My take-home message was that as urban farming is attracting more and more people in cities like Kathmandu, my own YAP project can contribute as it is promoting new technologies in urban farming, such as hydroponics.
Women in Agriculture
If women were given equal access to opportunities like men, there would be definitely fewer hungry people. Female farmers have the potential to pull 150 million people out of hunger. We heard in the presentations (Nemora Muller from Syngenta and Maria Harlt from IFAD ) that women producers remain underserved by traditionally male-dominated producer meetings. They have very little marketing experience, they lack knowledge on business management and risk-management issues. A larger knowledge base and stronger interpersonal relationship skills can make the difference between success and failure for women farmers.
In our group of twenty people we discussed how women agricultural producers face unique challenges in balancing the demands of both farm and family. Women farmers have emerged as an important segment not only in developed countries but for developing countries as well. Our group came up with some project ideas to take forward the issues raised in the presentations. We talked about creating a small project on school gardens especially for girls and where we can bring innovative women farmers to inspire the school students.
A couple of other topics at the conference also captured my interest:
Feeding a global population of just over 9 billion in 2050 will require a 70 per cent increase in global food production (How to feed the world by 2050, FAO Publications). What I took away from this session was that agriculture – particularly smallholder agriculture – will need to play a much more effective role. The need for a global food revolution was emphasized in a paper written by a number of leading scientists working with the CGIAR Research Program on Water, Land and Ecosystems (WLE).
Refugee crisis management with agriculture
People aren’t only moving across international borders in search of a better life. There is also an accelerating pattern of rural to urban migration taking place in sub-Saharan Africa that is placing a huge burden on national services.
With the world’s refugee numbers increasing at an alarming rate, it’s been a headache for countries like Belgium and the whole of Europe. Between presentations and group discussion we concluded that by contributing to the creation of an economically vibrant agricultural sector near refugee camps, we can play our part in tackling this challenge. In the group discussion we discussed interesting ideas such as placing greenhouse tunnels near to refugee camps.
Saying goodbye might be painful but our way forward is exciting
I felt that ICYA 2017 served as a foundation for greater things to come. For me it was the needed catalyst to catapult the movement of collaboration between people of all ages in demonstrating the importance of agriculture. I was really impressed by how much the youth actively participated in the conference.
As my parting message to other participants I urged everyone to start something of their own, no matter what point of life they are at, and I asked if they could work on any of the ideas we developed during the conference within this year. As the YAP project continues it would be a perfect opportunity to launch some of the brilliant ideas coming out of the ICYA conference.
This blogpost by Anil Regmi (waytomeanil(at)gmail.com) originally appeared on the GFAR blog. Anil is one of six finalists in the Youth Agripreneurs Project, a pilot project targeting young agricultural entrepreneurs (“agripreneurs”), co-organized by GFAR and YPARD.
Photo credits: 1-IAAS; 2-Raphi See (Raphael Seebacher)/Urban Farmers