How can we inspire the next generation of farmers?

Years of declining investment in farmer education and extension services - as well under-investment in agriculture per se – is now affecting our ability to source quality raw materials in the quantities required to produce enough food for an increasing global population.

In many countries, farming is unattractive to young people. Few take it up as a profession. Those who do, usually do so by default and not by choice. Most young people leave the countryside and search for employment opportunities in cities.

We’d like to know what you think can be done to reverse these trends:

1) How can we ensure that small-scale farming offers an appealing level of income as well as social recognition? Do you know of any existing innovative models that aim to achieve this?

2) What should be the role of governments, business, development agencies and other stakeholders in addressing these challenges? How can these different groups be incentivized to contribute?

3) How can we make agriculture more attractive to young people? Where should investment in agricultural training and education be focused?

Please post your comments below:

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What should be the role of governments, business, development agencies and other stakeholders in addressing these challenges?

Among the various stakeholders, such as business, multilateral development organizations, donors and foundations, government needs to play leading role. In this context, this is not so much about the role of the Ministry of Agriculture. For most developing countries, agriculture should be the national priority and the leadership role of the country president and/or prime minister is imperative. This will also considerably facilitate the needed cross-ministerial coordination. Recently, the government of the Democratic Republic of Congo has taken this approach. For more details see:

Ray Goldberg, Carin-Isabel Knoop, and Djordjija Petkoski, "Seeding Growth in the Democratic Republic of Congo", Harvard Business School Case Study, N9-914-401, December, 2013.

Djordjija Petkoski, Wharton, University of Pennsylvania

About 25 years ago, the Peruvian cacao production was focused on the commodities market; now, the country has now managed to position the product in niche markets that recognize and pay for better quality, with an international recognition. This has generated in the production areas greater social recognition for cocoa producers, as well as improvements in their income levels. This is an incentive for young people who now recognize the cocoa farming and agriculture in general, as an effective means to achieve their life goals.

If we want the younger generations to visualize a better future by working on farms currently managed by their parents, the issue of education is crucial. This should start from scholar education, so they learn early about the value of this activity and about proper farm. An example of this is the "Schools & Café " program currently being implemented in Colombia since 1996 and supported by the National Federation of Coffee Growers of Colombia (see )

Regarding the technical / vocational training, it is important to promote local educational institutions with quality standards and market orientation, in topics related to agriculture, and with a clear focus on the demand and its requirements.

On the subject of education, both state and private enterprises have an important role to play. Companies must play an expert role, being an expression of the demand. Their contribution to the definition of the occupational profile and design of the curriculum is very relevant. They can also make investments to strengthen the education system in agricultural technical issues. Their incentive is that a tech agricultural supply contributes to growth and opportunity for everyone.

On the other hand the government has the responsibility to ensure access for the majorities to adequate and sufficient supply of technical careers. In the case of agricultural careers, improving this offer will reduce migration and abandonment of agricultural land.

To the extent that farming is profitable, young people will see it as a means to achieve their life goals. The investment made in training and / or technical education in agriculture topics should focus on promising or profitable activities so that development opportunities increase.

Around the world various groups and individuals practice and develop the permaculture techniques pioneered by Australian Bill Mollison with enormous success, achieving high yields in food production as well as bio-diversity, social and emotional capital, often in quite small areas of land or even in the centre of cities. At the margins of today's usually energy intensive agricultural techniques which are invariably heavily dependent on imported oil-based inputs, it is these pioneers in sustainable resilient agriculture who are leading the way to a low carbon, resource efficient agricultural future. Would Nestle like to comment on their view of permaculture practice and how they are equally responding to a future that is not fossil-oil dependent ? What are governments doing to facilitate agriculture that is more resilient to external (oil for example) inputs and planet-friendly ?

At QualySense ( we are working on bringing exciting technologies into agriculture to help farmers in selecting automatically seeds with respect to quality parameters such that they can growth better quality crops. In order to attract youth agriculture should sound more sexy. The good news is that today this already the case: new technologies are coming in, farmers are much more attentive to consumer quality claims (e.g. gluten-free, organic) and the educational offer on agriculture topics has increased. However, we must consider that human beings are ambitious, dream about a career growth, expect high benefits. This is where agriculture is still lacking.

Off the bat stop the heavy handedness on organic farming in favor of big business, organic farms need licensing, poisoning the food supply and ruining soils requires no permit or license. All this is just a tool for the biggies to bury or buy the up-and-coming or successful organic operations, the antithesis of the goal.

Until that insanity is removed, organic farming as small business is a dream.

My thoughts relate to questions 1 and 2: In addition to comments posted above, I believe that farmers also need to be better paid for the food and other primary resources they produce (thereby making the profession more attractive with growth prospects - which also adds to increased status). This requires governments to step in: creating and implementing policy where the retail sector is required to pay farmers more (and therefore adjusting their own profit expactations - in several developing countries, retail outlets make excessive profits while farmers carry the risk) and retailers must also be curtailed from passing these costs onto the consumer. Ultimately, it needs to be recognised that retailers make too much profit; farmers do the hard work and carry most of the risk; and consumers pay too much. The retail sector MUST be made to take on more risk, pay farmers more and readjust their profit expectations. Everyone therefore benefits.

Welcome to this online discussion! We are joined by a great panel to discuss how to inspire and support the next generation of farmers.

This will be a written discussion - please go ahead and post your comments, or replies to other people's comments. A notification of new comments will appear at regular intervals in the right-hand column. Click here to refresh this page in your browser regularly to see new comments more quickly.

So, let's start:

Q1: How can we ensure that small-scale farming offers an appealing level of income as well as social recognition? Do you know of any existing innovative models that aim to achieve this?

Welcome to everyone! I am very excited to be participating in this online discussion on the very important topic about the importance of education in agriculture!

With regards, to question 1, many become farmers not by choice, but by default, and they often lack the most basic skills to be able to make money out of their farm, including how to read, write and calculate. For example, if the farmer is not able to read or calculate, he will not be able to read the instructions for the use of the fertiliser and he will not be able calculate how is needed. These skills you get by attending primary schools and vocational training.

I believe some drastic measures are needed, i.e. you cannot farm if you don't have a "farming degree"

In the cocoa world this debate has been running for some time. Most people in trade and industry have elected to fiddle around the edges with symptoms of the fundamental problems rather than the hard ground of dealing with those fundamental issues. Professionlaisation of farmers is often cited as the way forward and yet the responses have been for more research, extension and planting material which has hitherto been a rather unsustainable, perpetuation of project based disaster area.

The real issues remain how to empower farmers, get better organisation and ensure that young people are inspired by a vision of a future in the rural communities. This future needs infrastrcuture in a substantial way and the bottom line is that producing country governments need to do more for their people and where they are financially constrained in doing so , then the development world should be supportive.

Paying the farmers more in splendid isolation is not the answer as there are too many farmers for the quantitiy of cocoa being produced. The Eu has a policy document "A Decent Life for All" and to take this forward needs far more than muted responses to familiar project interventions. Up country quality management centres are a start serving rural populations to have aggregated quantitites for sale and acting as a resource in conjunction with local government in satisfying needs for public goods and ensuring that farmers and their families do not continue to be disconnected from decision making and public investment which continues to be focused on capitals and major cities as these are most visible in terms of delivering a sense of improvement to the outside world.

I agree the government has an important role to play in providing an enabling environment for farmers to succeed. This includes making investments in agriculture and infrastructure as well as investing in relevant education and training. It also has a role to play in incentivising the other players to address this challenge. This can take the form of building infrastructure which will encourage the private sector to invest in a specific area, like roads or collection centres, as well as facilitating collaboration between different key players, like business and civil society.

Working in market systems, Swisscontact often sees that smallholder farmers and rural producers are typically lacking resources, skills and knowledge to be more effective contributors to supply chains and to more profitable returns for all actors, including the producers themselves. The often inefficient use of resources not only inhibits their own income potential, but also, in the case of high demand commodities, such as cocoa and coffee, contribute to lower productive capacity and market shortages. It is in these instances that the role of business as a systemic market player can be enhanced, especially in a new century promoting greater corporate social responsibility and better ecological practices, which serve as the foundation for terms such as triple bottom line investing: people, planets, profits

To inspire a new generation there is little point looking at the way things have been done during the "cheap energy" era of the past 100 years or not least because cheap fossil energy cannot be relied upon and has many adverse implications. Agriculture that is heavily external input, especially fossil-oil dependent is not sustainable. Better to look at the people who are currently growing food with inspiration - the practitioners of permaculture around the world and develop, encourage and facilitate these models in a new era of sustainable agriculture that is not confined to rural areas but involves food growing in many different kinds and sizes of space in cities as well.

In general we share the view on permaculture, however running a food system under permaculture is extremely labour and knowledge intensive and can hardly be mechanised. As such it is extremely difficult to replicate and produce food at affordable price for urban consumers.

Well, as in a good corporation, employee satisfaction increases when 1) People love what they do, 2) Growth professionally, 3) Participate to the final profits.

Today, farmers have no incentive to grow, for example, gluten-free oats. What's for them?

If somehow, farmers could benefit from a product success that would increase their motivation to invest more in technologies (which means more educated people).

For example, how many farmers have been benefiting from the extraordinary Nespresso's success?

To make agriculture attractive to the young, it is relevant that they receive training in how to do business with agricultural activities. They need to learn how to make money from farming, not just how to farm. The role of educational institutions is to offer the opportunity to unleash the potential locked inside the youth and transform them into young rural entrepreneurs. To do this, agricultural training investment should focus on providing a platform where the youth can be trained in the full production cycle: produce, market the products, sell, and analyze earnings, and others.

Young people must understand that it is not enough to know how to grow tomatoes, what is important and necessary is to know how to make money growing tomatoes.

We also believe that new information and communication technnologies can play an important role in making farming more efficient as well as in attracting young talented people. Using these technologies provide young people witn an intellectural challenges. But we shouldn't forget we should provide them with adequate remuneration as well.

Farming is one of the most complex industries. I have had the opportunity to create the Canadian Young Farmers Forum and the Agricultural Sector Council in Canada. One of the best program in agriculture. the Canadian Temporary Foreign Workers program where workers from Latin America and Asia come and support our Canadian agriculture and learn new skills, technics, and new crops.

One of the most important opportunity is lost in the process....helping the worker understand his new skills and help him leverage thse new skills for job creation when they return home.

Our best opportunity to make agriculture work is to help connect the North with the South. This program can rapidly foster innovation, generate new and significant new income.

Agriculture in Canada and the USA is and will be immigrant dependant for manyyyy years to come. If we want to make agriculture successful. ..we have to leverage these opportunities (temporary foreign workers program). I live in South America and currently focuses on agriculture again....opportunities abound but making employment in agriculture sustainable will require innovation in the way we use food and the way farmers see their role to continue innovating and being part of the value chain.

I perfectly agree. See my comment later on "Sharing profit" along the value chain. We are working for a more sustainable food chain by helping farmers do more with their seeds, i.e. make more money. On the other side, the big corps should invest on farming because their future depends on them.

There is a good example of Isdell Nevill (former CEO of Coca-Cola) who made the company invest into water, water being the primary ingredient of Coke.