The decreasing share of young people in agriculture and as a consequence, the upcoming issue of securing food production for future generations, is a topic that slowly moves up the agenda of organizations and governments worldwide. While there is a decrease of young work force in agricultural production, there is also a decrease of young people engaging in agricultural research.
Need for young leaders in the agricultural field
According to statistics, cited in the introduction to the Swiss Forum for International Agricultural Research (SFIAR) award ceremony 2014, spending in agricultural research decreased in the north in the last few years while there was a slight increase in research spending in the south.
The current leaders in agricultural research are now in their 50’s and 60’s and will soon leave the professional field. Based in this setting of limited research resources and retiring capacities, the question asked and discussed in the SFIAR Award ceremony 2014 was: “Youth in the driver’s seat: How to involve a new generation in agricultural research for development?”
The aim of the SFIAR Award is to “showcase inspiring work from young researchers”. Two research projects have been presented and awarded in this frame in November 2014. Besides the possibility to present the research work accomplished, the awarded presenters also receive prize money as an incentive for their further career.
The two projects have very different backgrounds: while Mr. Gurbir S. Bhullars Post-doc treated the topic of climate neutral and bio-diverse rice farming in India, Mrs Angela Deppeler’s Mater Thesis treated the benefits of third-party audited certification schemes in the cocoa sector in Ghana.
Reducing Methane Emissions from Rice for a more Sustainable Agriculture
For his Post-doc Mr Bhullar collaborated with the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology in Zurich (ETHZ), the Punjab Agricultural University, as well as the Research Institute of Organic Agriculture (FiBL) in Switzerland. His work focused on the reduction of methane emissions in rice production.
Rice is today the main staple food for around half the world’s population; therefore reducing methane emissions from rice can have a relevant impact on total methane emission from agricultural production. In order to approach the issue, Mr Bhullar studied the potential of reducing emissions through using different crops in an intercropping system with rice.
Besides the biological side of the research, Mr Bhullar also had to consider social and economic facts and ask himself questions such as: what crops would be accepted by farmers and why would they be accepted or not? Could these crops be used as well by the farmers?
After experimental research and surveying, Mr Bhullar found different plants that have the potential to reduce methane emission from rice production that are of interest to farmers. A next step for research is now, to test the crops in a practical setting and find out about farmers’ attitude towards this new system.
The effect of Certification schemes in Cocoa on Ghana's Farmers
Mrs Deppeler’s Master thesis was based in a very different setting. Her work looked at the effect of certification schemes in cocoa on farmers in Ghana. Since an increasing share of the world’s cocoa is produced under labeling schemes, it is a question worth to ask: what are the benefits of these schemes and who benefits most? Mrs Deppeler examined the case of cocoa in Ghana.
Ghana is the second biggest cocoa producer in the world and about 50% of Switzerland’s cocoa is imported from Ghana. For her thesis she first surveyed and described the different production systems in Ghana and the people involved. These are on the one hand farmers, but also seasonal workers and absentee-farmers which own land, but do not farm the land themselves but hire other farmers instead.
Through focus group interviews, expert interviews and talks with community leaders, Mrs Deppeler learned about the schemes in Ghana and their benefits and drawbacks. She concluded that in general the schemes have a positive impact and are appreciated by the producers since they receive training on cocoa production.
Nevertheless these effects are not experienced by all producers the same, the benefits are transmitted intransparently, depending on the region and the people involved. Laborers are mostly completely excluded from these benefits. And in some regions the label schemes can exacerbate the inequality in a community, since some have better access to the benefits, than others.
SFIAR - Promoting YPs in Agriculture's Research
The topics presented showed, that agricultural research has different facets and involves a plethora of methods to increase knowledge in a certain field. The interesting work of Mrs Deppeler and Mr Bhullar shows that research in agriculture is needed and that it is important to get young professionals into the diverse fields of agriculture to secure sustainable agricultural production for future generations. The SFIAR award offers a possibility for young professionals to make their research work known and receive an incentive for their future career.
Don’t miss your chance: if you feel, your work could be eligible for the award, apply for the SFIAR award 2015! The 2015 call will be open until 15 of July, 2015. For further details on the award 2014 and the upcoming award please check www.sfiar.ch/award.htm.
Picture credit: SFIAR