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Make agriculture ‘cool’ to the youth: The 8th GFRAS annual meeting

I am currently attending the 8th Annual meeting of the GFRAS - Global Forum for Rural Advisory Services at Ingham, Townsville, Australia during 10-13 September, 2017 (#GFRASAPEN2017).

Over 80 participants from 40 countries have gathered here to discuss more on rural advisory services and empowered youth for balanced transformation in rural and urban communities. The event is co-organised with the Australasia-Pacific Extension Network (APEN) whose  International Conference under the theme facilitating balanced change for rural and urban communities is taking place from the 13th-15th September. It is going to be an exciting opportunity for me and anybody else, to explore issues concerned with youth in the context of agriculture. What the organizers intend in this event is well-articulated in the concept note GFRAS has prepared for the meeting.

Looking at the programme schedule, it appears to be one unique opportunity to the participants from all regions, sectors, gender, and ages to exchange on and learn about the roles, relations, challenges and opportunities of youth and Rural Advisory Services (RAS) in the context of rural and urban transformation.

The deliberations on the first day, especially the conference overview presented by the organizers, clearly indicated that the meeting is going to:

  • Identify and discuss roles, challenges and opportunities for youth to be meaningful actors in balanced and inclusive rural and urban transformation.
  • Identify and discuss the roles and relations between RAS and youth for inclusive and sustainable rural-urban linkages; Including
  • Identify and discuss changes in policies and the capacities of RAS needed for both RAS and youth to fulfill their roles and strengthening capacities of RAS networks through peer exchange and learning.

These intentions are good, better if turned into reality too.

The opening keynote of Ms. Elske Van der Fliert, Director of the Centre for Communication and Social Change, University of Queensland, Australia was quite thought provoking as it highlighted the need for creating opportunities in rural areas so that youth are not forced to migrate. She appealed that agriculture be made cool for youth by providing access to innovation and entrepreneurial opportunities. In addition, she suggested educating young people in rural professions and facilitating service provision like educational, financial, commercial and communication that would go a long way in attracting youth to agriculture.

It was a wonderful opportunity for me to share my experience of implementing Youth Mentoring Programme-2017 in India as one of the speakers on the first day of the conference. In addition, I shared this experience in Shift and Share format, which was very interactive. An interesting presentation was made by Alpha Senon, Director of WhyFarm), Trinidad and Tobago, who said, “Youth are the one’s to reach youth through creativity, innovation and motivation to strengthen youth and agripreneurs along the agricultural value chains. Likewise, there are several experiences and youth empowerment models being shared by the delegates. These presentations on youth from different continents reflect and shows the diversity and similarities in problems and issues concerned with youth along with policies and actions to tackle these problems.

Appreciably, some YPARDians (three of them from the Philippines, Caribbean and Cameroon) are attending the conference hence making strong voices for greater participation and proactive roles for youth in policy making bodies. I wished many more YPARDians could have been here to make youth demands heard. The leading voices here echoed new roles for Rural Advisory Services that are;  framing Youth supportive policies, youth mentoring programs, understanding farmers’ family farming processes and creative ways to integrate youth into farming, hand holding support to youth in value-chain extension.

Finally, I strongly feel many more young women and men from around the world could have been here to make this conference more youthful, but there is always a next time. Let's all hope for a better deal for the future farmers -the youth of the world.

Photo credits: Rod Nelson (HCPS Ltd, Australia), Lorenz Schwarz & Fillippo Buzzini(for the beautiful  poster) from GFRAS, Switzerland

Dr. Mahesh Chander (drmahesh.chander@gmail.com) is the Head, Division of Extension Education, ICAR- Indian Veterinary Research Institute. The views expressed are personal and cannot be attributed to ICAR or YPARD.