The narrative of the agriculture sector needs to be changed.
A well-functioning food system is critical to one’s health and well-being, which ultimately contributes to the success of our economies. As a group, the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) forum is committed to helping each other achieve food security. Additionally, APEC member economies are dedicated to creating a productive, sustainable and resilient food system. These policies will ensure that people will always have access to affordable and nutritious food to meet their dietary needs in pursuit of an active and healthy life.
“The innovative energy of youth can revitalize and enhance local economies, and this is particularly true in the agricultural sector where new technologies and innovative farming practices have the potential to enhance the sector’s productivity and effectiveness,” Policy Partnership on Food Security project overseer, Sarah Elizabeth Fasano, explained as she kick-started the Regional Food Systems Dialogue, a virtual workshop which gathered stakeholders from across APEC member economies.
One of the issues plaguing food systems in the APEC region is the ever-increasing number of aging farmers and agricultural producers, an issue critical for food security globally. The dialogue sought to generate policies that incentivize and encourage youth engagement in these sectors, and discussion about structural obstacles that youth face in agriculture, fisheries and other food production. Taking the lead in this project, Fasano moderated the two-day webinar with policymakers, youth entrepreneurs, and thought leaders to explore several issues regarding the future of youth in agriculture.
By 2050, seven out of ten people will live in a city, and youth unemployment rates will remain high and only get higher as youth migrate to urban centers. The agriculture sector (typically associated with rural areas) will continue to be largely tended by older generations. The average farmer's age is 60—a concerning statistic given that half of the world’s population is younger than 30. As such, this project suggests that youth have the power to revitalize and improve the agriculture sector where new technologies and innovative farming practices can be implemented. In that vein, participation ultimately improves youth employment rates and enhances the effectiveness of the agriculture sector.
“Youth aren’t just a future resource for ensuring the longevity of our food systems,” Fasano explains. “They are a form of resource now, with amazing and important ideas. The policies that we make now will affect them.”
Discussions revealed that economies may be able to increase youth participation in food systems through well designed, inclusive, and flexible economy-led initiatives and early learning programs. The objective is to shift the perception of agriculture to focus on the industry’s modernity in utilizing technology and its economic viability, as opposed to the more prevalent “labor-intensive, low profitable career” narrative. This shift will assuredly draw youth to the sector.
Furthermore, the officials at the workshop highlighted the need to enhance women’s participation in the agriculture economy. Lacking a voice and representation, women represent 12.8 percent of agricultural landholders, with plots generally smaller and of lower quality than those owned by men. Thus, the agriculture sector is largely dominated by men. To advocate for equal access to productive resources, market opportunities and employment, structural barriers and patriarchal social norms must be addressed to empower women’s economic involvement.
As an advocate for diversity and widespread economic opportunity, Fasano explained that she’d like to dedicate every workstream she leads to inspiring people from disenfranchised groups whose work is instrumental in such discussions.
“I encourage workstream leaders to make similar acknowledgments and look forward to learning about more incredible people around the globe,” she said. “I hope that such acknowledgments will bring some light to those here in this dialogue and will inspire our participants, especially our youth participants.”
For more on this subject, follow the activities of the Policy Partnership on Food Security.