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YPARD member or having a midlife crisis?

Homeless boys at City Mission Farm learning various vocational skills.Marlene Heeb is YPARD’s focal point at SDCSwiss Agency for Development and Cooperation: a key support of YPARD from its beginnings. At the occasion of YPARD’s 10 year anniversary, Marlene reflects on YPARD’s vision and what it means for SDC to “invest in the youth” for agricultural development.

Who is the youth?

When I joined the SDC Global Program Food Security in September 2013, my colleague introduced me into our support to YPARD, its structure and aims, which seemed all very convincing. There was only one aspect which confused me: they defined youth as persons below 40 years of age. Aren’t young people around 20 years old maybe 30, but definitely not 39! It seems to me that beyond 40 one is rather approaching his/her midlife crisis than escaping youth.

But before being able to further reflect or discuss on this age limit with anybody, I made a mind changing experience: I attended the preparatory technical meeting for the International Conference on Nutrition 2 (ICN2) in Rome in November 2013. And what I saw convinced me of YPARD’s interpretation of “youth”: Although I am not good in guessing people’s age, I can assure you that there was no person below 40 on any of the panel discussions during this meeting! Probably not even below 50?! So I had no more questions regarding YPARD’s age limit for youth and its aim to bring more young people to global policy and strategy discussions around agriculture!

Why does SDC invest in young professionals in agriculture?

We at SDC see, like all of us, that agriculture is not an attractive professional option for many young people. It suffers from a negative image of hard labor with little perspective to prosperity. When farmer’s average age is about 20 years higher than the country’s population average, something is wrong. Agriculture is not cool among the youth.

This challenges our future, as agriculture is the basis for feeding the population. So the youth is needed in this professional field if we don’t want to starve in the future, and even more, if we want to improve food and nutrition security for the entire population. When we talk about the future, it is simply coherent that the people living in this future, the current youth, are involved in designing it and taking responsibility for shaping it.

Removing the hurdle to involve young people is urgent. Young people who want to get involved in political debates and the older generation who wants to have young people’s perspective when discussing strategies for the future should know where and how to get in touch and reach each other. YPARD is expected to become such a meeting place around agricultural issues. That’s what attracts SDC to invest in it. 

What does SDC expect from its investment?

YPARD reached 10’000 members in 2014, we would like to see it double by 2018 and be assured that half of them are not only virtually involved, but also doing something on the ground to make agriculture more attractive among young people: inspiring youth by example, in person and on the ground, be that as farmers, pastoralists, urban gardeners, but also agro-entrepreneurs in processing, seed supply or any important service provider to facilitate primary production!

Finding youth strategies not only in one, but in most Research Programs of the CGIAR and other key institutions and having key functions occupied with persons around 40 would be to our full satisfaction.

Mentoring programs in different forms have been launched by YPARD and we expect a thorough analysis of these programs to assure best response, use of resources and most effective format for the beneficiaries, to enable it to spread over the globe.

If at the next International Conferences on Nutrition we start discussing whether the experience of the old persons is enough considered, as most panel members are very young, we will know that YPARD has come a long way!

We thank SDC - Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation for their invaluable support to YPARD since its beginning. We wouldn’t have made it without their continuing commitment to the youth. Thank you!

Celebrate YPARD 10 years with us; stay tuned at

Photo taken by Ness Kerton for AusAID