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Youth in RAS making history at #GFRASAPEN2017

After the epic moments spent in Cameroon at Limbe, the “Town of Friendship” last year, the Global Forum for Rural Advisory Services (GFRAS) decided to hold this year’s International Conference of the Australia-Pacific Extension Network (APEN), GFRASAPEN at Ingham, the “Town of Hospitality”, and at Townsville in Queensland, Australia.

This is quite a good approach to vary the hosting country each year as it gives room to participants, not only to visit other countries and get to know about the hosting country’s cultures and history, but also to have a keen look at how agricultural practices and processes are being handled on the ground. This enhances knowledge sharing throughout the meeting.Rural Advisory Services (RAS) and empowered youth for balanced transformation in rural and urban communities was the core theme of this year. More than a hundred participants from diverse regions around the globe were present. As usual, the five-day programme was managed as follows: two days  set aside exclusively for side events, while the other three days were mainly dedicated for parallel sessions, policy dialogue, RAS regional network capacity strengthening, shift and shares, field trips, keynote and reflection in plenary and thematic component wrap-up.

The interesting part about this year’s annual meeting was how the youth were highly involved in the all activities mentioned above. It is stated within the 2030 agenda for sustainable development, youth are to be put at the forefront of all activities and/or actions planned to contribute to the achievement of these goals. And in this vein several members of the Young Professionals for Agricultural Development (YPARD) also made it to Australia for these two conferences. Their energy, spirit of advocacy, interest and passion about RAS throughout the conference was extraordinary. YPARD was represented onsite by:

  • Jim Cano Leandro, YPARD Philippine’s country representative, whose transparency, great advocacy and experience on youth’s involvement in policy dialogue, as well as agriculture related issues, was definitely identified as an added value to this discussion during the meeting. Jim was also a rapporteur during the field trips and RAS network capacity strengthening.
  • Alpha Sennon, founder and CEO of WHYFARM (We Help Youth FARM) as well as a member of YPARD Trinidad and Tobago, had another opportunity to showcase the power of “AGRIMAN” to rebrand subconscious minds of youth and adults on what agriculture is all about and the need to grow the future feeders of tomorrow. He shared his insights on the topic “Can you-th yeach you-th?” during parallel sessions, on “Youth open up the horizon” during the shift and share and also on the role of the youth in policy establishment. Alpha was also a rapporteur for the fieldtrip activities.
  • Myself, Marc Ghislain Bappa, YPARD Cameroon communication officer and extension officer for a group of cocoa farmer organizations. I also represented the Central and West African Forum for Agricultural and Advisory Service Network (RESCAR-AOC). I was given the opportunity to lead a discussion on “YouthinRAS as sustainable catalyst for an inclusive and oriented community development” during the parallel sessions and “how ICT4RAS in Cameroon can entice community change via YouthinAg engagement” at the shift and share session. I was also a reporter during the field trip and RAS regional network capacity strengthening.

Throughout this meeting, it was acknowledged that youth are crucial assets that can give a consistent support in addressing existing challenges faced by farmers and other natural resource users and as well, can formulate added valued incentives on how to design practical and qualitative mechanisms to tackle these targeted causes. We were very excited to meet Michel Evoquez of SDC, one of the YPARD supporters, a very open-minded person. He accepted to chip in a couple of minutes of his time so we could share our opinions on the advancement of this youth movement at country and regional level, to assess issues destined to strengthen the linkage that exist between these networks and the global coordination unit(GCU).

We arrived at some very interesting prospects after this discussion as thus; 

  • A possibility to organize a global meeting of YPARD on a defined time basis, so as to have a chance talk face-to-face about issues on ground and how can we tackle the various constraints that face YPARD. The regional bodies need to mutualize their efforts in finding donors and sponsors, who are engaged in core agricultural development processes and practices, advocate for youth’s inclusiveness within these issues so as to ensure their practical contribution in the various development stages;
  • Having a keen look on the attributions and job description of country representatives. This will ensure that representatives give off their best and give more time to their activities that get more youth engaged in their country within various processes.

After the discussions held at this annual meeting, we were all unsatisfied and asked ourselves, “What next? Which concrete move has to be made to effectively put into practice all what has being said so far during this annual meeting.” YPARDians once again had to make their voice heard by the entire audience present onsite, particularly to the members of the GFRAS steering committee. A youth movement started germinating. From mouth to mouth, we pulled out the ears of colleagues, friends and others participated on our insights and perspectives about this meeting, peculiarly on how youth are to be prioritized and empowered to fully engage in extension and advisory services, policy negotiation and dialogue, usage of the New Extensionist Toolkit (NELK) and many more topics closely related to RAS. From there, a coalition of youth present and from different continents and networks was created. We thought, and had to act immediately. Thanks to Natalie Ernst (GFRAS Programme Officer), we had this mighty unique opportunity to pitch right in front of all the GFRAS steering committee, our ideas, incentives and prospective about youth’s involvement in RAS. We had an intention to create a YouthinRAS working group to work hand in gloves with the GFRAS board. This way, they will strengthen the youth’s capacities in the RAS processes and practices while we, the youth introduce more creativity into GFRAS. A win-win situation, I would say…

Although stressed out as though, we were before a team of high ranked university professors scoring our oral exam, we left the hall with a great sense of accomplishment. And what more could we do to preserve the memories of such a great conference than take a group selfie? This is the first ever GFRAS selfie with the steering committee. Gorgeous!

I am proud to have been part of this adventure, with these #AgriYouthinRAS champions I came across at #GFRASAPEN2017. We individually demonstrated our interest in RAS and collectively showcased the role youth have to play in delivering extension and advisory services to farmers and other related actors, through the various cross connected topics and issues to address. We identified other youth who were passionate and ready to commit to this path. And who knows, we could find a future country representative through this.

Going forward

A Community of Practice group shall be created soonest, through an online channel and it will be open to all practitioners and advocates of extension and advisory services in agriculture and rural development. So stay tuned peeps. I hope other YPARDians join us in this new and exciting adventure, for the great joy of #YouthilizingAgricoolture…. #GFRASAPEN2017 #RAStaYouths