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YPARDian bags home the 2017 SFIAR Master Thesis award!

Since 2008, The Swiss Forum for International Agricultural Research (SFIAR) has been honoring graduates and scientists working in agricultural research for development with two awards categories; the team award and the Master Thesis award. The awards aim at supporting relevant agricultural research for development (ARD) as well as promoting knowledge on and visibility of Swiss ARD.

In 2017, YPARD member, Sebastian Mengel, was the recipient of the Master Thesis award for his collaborative research with YPARD, HAFL and CGIAR CRP drylands program on agricultural livelihoods of rural youth in the drylands of Midelt, Morocco.

YPARD Communications Manager, Emmie Wachira, had a chat with Sebastian post the SFIAR award ceremony and here are the interview outcomes. Enjoy reading!

Emmie: Thank you, Sebastian, for agreeing to this interview. To start with, could you tell us a bit more about yourself and your background?

Sebastian: Thank you for having me. To begin with, I grew up on a family-owned and -run wine farm near Mainz, Germany and studied viticulture, enology and business management in my Bachelor’s degree – I still have quite strong ties to viticulture. After that I did my Master’s degree in “Applied Agricultural and Forestry Sciences” at the Bern University of Applied Sciences (BFH) – School of Agricultural, Forest and Food Sciences (HAFL) in Switzerland and became involved in international agricultural research and development cooperation.

Emmie: Congratulations on winning the 2017 SFIAR Master Thesis award. How does it feel? Tell us more about your thesis and how it links to the young people in agriculture. 

Sebastian: Thank you so much! Knowing that quite a few young fellows submitted outstanding research work conducted by them, the message of being honored with the 2017 SFIAR Master Thesis Award really reached me as a huge surprise. As part of a study conducted by YPARD and the BFH-HAFL on behalf of the CGIAR Research Program (CRP) on Dryland Systems, my work investigates the realities, viewpoints, challenges, opportunities and aspirations of rural, farming youth in the research site, in order to determine possible entry points for support and intervention aiming at improving their livelihoods.

Emmie: For your research project, Morocco was chosen as the country of study. How did this come about? Any particular significance of this?

Sebastian: That was initially quite a complex and challenging decision. One of the criteria was that the study works with all three agricultural livelihood systems (ALSs) as defined by the CRP on Dryland Systems – pastoralism/agro-pastoralism, irrigated and rainfed agriculture. It was also important to work in a country which plays an important role in the thematic and organizational context of the CRP on Dryland Systems. And most importantly, a country with a “young” population had to be chosen – where rural youth do play an important role in the agricultural sector.

Emmie: In the course of your research project, you held a couple of interviews to help inform the realities and aspirations of rural youth. What were some of your major findings?

Sebastian: Youth’s perception of rural life and agriculture is not per se negative. There is considerable interest in continuing to develop their agriculture, in particular among young men who aspire to have their own profitable farms. Female youth aspire to access basic education and vocational training. Also, rural outmigration is not a first choice for many but rather driven by precarious living conditions. Based on the conducted assessment, recommendations were developed to support the youth. Further research should seek to improve local ALSs, foster organizational development and evaluate the cost/benefit of possible support and interventions. Moreover, youth require better access to infrastructure (above all basic education), training and capacity building (e.g. through a mentoring program). Direct support should aim to structure the local agricultural sector and develop post-harvest infrastructure/activities for inclusive growth.

Emmie: In most cases, farmers are meant to be beneficiaries of research but presence and engagement in research planning and implementation is often left out. What are some of the major recommendations from the research?

Sebastian: It is important that similar, participatory research approaches – taking account of the diversity of youth – be replicated, scaled up and out to make further scientific experiences and progress in this relatively unexplored field of research, to enable cross-comparisons between different contexts, and to inform decision and policy-making actors about possible entry points for support and intervention in different geographical settings. Strategies and policies for engaging youth in the rural/agricultural sector should be developed. Fostering decent rural/agricultural livelihoods for present and future generations must be recognized as a means to slow down rural outmigration and urbanization and create inclusive economic growth – not only in a Moroccan context but generally where the rural/agricultural sector is of critical importance. Finally, it remains to be said that livelihoods research should categorically be paired with practical support and interventions.

See more photos of the 2017 SFIAR award ceremony as well as the project showcase on the SFIAR website.

Photo credit: SFIAR