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.