18 March 2012

Talkin' to the Next Generation

This week the Future Agricultures Consortium and the Institute of Statistical, Social and Economic Research (ISSER), University of Ghana are convening an international conference in Accra on Young People, Farming & Food: the Future of the Agrifood Sector in Africa.

The idea is to look at future opportunities in the agriculture sector in Africa. Farming itself is not seen very favourably by young people (often viewed as backward and not modern), but what about agri-food businesses? This is after all where most of the value added will be and may be more attractive to the next generation.

The conference organisers have framed the meeting by stating that:

  • The challenges facing African smallholder agriculture cannot be laid at the feet of young people; nor should ‘keeping the youth on the land’ be a major objective of agricultural policy.
  • When thinking about young people and agrifood, young people’s interests, goals and aspirations need to be taken into account.
  • ‘Youth’ should not be used as a homogeneous category – research and policy must take full account of social differences among young people, including gender.
  • With technology, urbanisation, economic growth, changes in workforce participation etc, there will be increasing opportunities for young people through the agrifood sector in not only primary production but in all stages between farm and fork, including processing, marketing, transportation retail, input supply, and research.
  • Many of the above jobs will require different training and skills than those required for smallholder farming, and educational establishments at all levels will need to work closely with the agrifood industry to make sure that teaching and learning are available and relevant.
  • For research to be relevant and for policy and programmes to be effective, the future of agrifood and young people’s involvement in it needs to be openly debated at all levels in society.

Clearly the organisers aim for youth and children to participate in the development of this policy agenda.

They are right to do so. Humanity is becoming more aware of the long wave cycles we are caught up in: climate change, natural resource limits, and the peaking of the population in the middle of the 21st century have contributed to this longer view. This means we have an even stronger ethical duty to engage with the next generation in a meaningful way.

But how easy is it to include children and youth in the policy process? And what are the benefits of doing it? Surprisingly, there has been little research on whether it is feasible and what it generates. Much of the evidence is from the UK and the US.

A systematic review by Cavet and Sloper in 2004 concluded "There is only limited evidence that children and young people's involvement in public decision-making leads to more appropriate services, although there is evidence that participating children and young people benefit in terms of personal development and that staff and organizations learn more about their views."

A more recent summary of the state of the art (pdf) by Children in Scotland listed some of the challenges of including children: tokenism, lack of feedback to children, which children are included, poor sustainability of funding to support such consultation, and too much consultation and not enough dialogue.

Some work by Plan UK, Save the Children UK, Unicef, World Vision and IDS on an initiative called Children in a Changing Climate clearly showed how adults and children think differently about the impacts of climate on children. The adults persistently focused on the health impacts of a changing climate on children. The children themselves focused on a much wider range of issues and saw themselves much more as agents of change.

We adults might even get some ideas that we had not considered--a book that will released this week "Imagine: How Creativity Works" by Jonah Lehrer is summarised in this WSJ article. One of the 10 things Lehrer suggests to get more creative is to "think like a child".

Much better to actually talk to them.


Liny said...

It's been more than 10 years ago since I was "chosen" to be one of the youth selected to represent my school and district at this youth forum, organised in Jakarta to collect / gather inputs and ideas on improving the quality of (informal) education with the aim to reduce youth criminal activity level.

I was trying to remember how I felt, what did I learn and what happened. All I could think of was that a couple of days before the conference, I was supposed to memorised / learnt the buzz word that my school / districts wanted me to say out loud - as my own personal opinion, of course.

Mind you, it was done in a very 'participatory' way, where my opinion was asked, noted down and some, I have to say, was included. At the end of 3 days conferences, I was given a certificate, got a picture with the governor and a lot of hand shakes...

I have to say that although I cannot vouch the conference actually took the youth opinion on board for the governor's plan (can't even remember if it was near election, or any other milestone time), it was indeed beneficial for me, and for the school and districts (all those highlights and coverage in local newspapers..).

Although critiques most accurately pointed out the tokenism, lack of feedback, etc. I personally would say, least the aim / objective behind it (hopefully) is useful. As I believe even increasing confident level for one youth, would have a multiplier positive effects to peers, and hopefully larger groups.

Lawrence Haddad said...

Dear Liny, thanks for this inspiring reflection. My own view is that if expectations are kept realistic and if the views of non experts can be respected (often my children 10 and 11 ask me basic questions about development that I struggle to answer) and taken seriously then I think the consultation and dialogue with children is very much worth the extra effort involved..

Gabriel Bennette said...

There are also children charities in NYC which provides proper education to all the students they are supporting. Also they let them be informed when it comes to economical status of the country cause this will affect them surely. I think this a one good idea to keep the students or the youth glued on what's happening around them.