SEARCA youth camp deals on agri-food system challenges, best practices

The Southeast Asian Regional Center for Graduate Study and Research in Agriculture (SEARCA) conducted the first virtual youth camp to convene young professionals, agripreneurs, public servants and students who lead projects and advocate for Philippine agriculture.

SEARCA organized the youth camp to gather youth perspectives on challenges and solutions in the agri-food system, particularly in light of the Covid-19 pandemic.

The first virtual youth camp was organized by the members of the SEARCA Young Ambassadors Platform or Sayap under the Young Forces for Agricultural Innovation or #Y4Agri, SEARCA's banner youth initiative until 2025.

During the virtual youth camp on June 19 via Zoom, SEARCA director Dr. Glenn Gregorio and Agrea president and Department of Agriculture Food Security ambassador Cherrie Atilano shared their experience in agriculture and stressed the role that young people can play in transforming food systems.

A United Nations (UN) Food Systems champion, Gregorio said that in agriculture "you can directly feed your family, your community and the world. The youth can contribute in transforming traditional ways in agri-food systems through technology and innovation."

Herself a UN Food Systems champion, Atilano stressed that young people can change the game and narrative of agriculture saying that "food is our umbilical cord to Mother Earth. It is something that all of us, especially young people, should think about."

Also sharing their insights on navigating the agri-food system and engaging the youth in it were youth representatives from the academe, business, civil society and government sectors.

SEARCA said there were challenges in engaging the youth in the agri-food system identified which include knowledge gaps in agriculture, disconnect between agri-curriculum and realities, poor internet connectivity, mobility issues and lack of data, and fragmented or delayed interventions.

It said the use of social media as a primary communications channel to the youth, capacity-building, community immersions, peer-to-peer learning and the establishment of a young farmers community were their consensus on the best practices among the youth.

"As millennials, youth are naturally tech-savvy. Incorporating innovative agri-technology in learning about agri-food system principles can encourage youths to venture into the field of agriculture," said Myka Fragata, who helps run the family-owned Arapaap Farm.

Fragata is a member of Team Automated Irrigation and Nutrient Management System (Airin), one of the finalists in the nationwide Innovation Olympics 2.0 to conclude in August 2021; and second place winner in the SEARCA Youth COVIDeo Contest that spotlighted how the youth engaged in growing food locally during the pandemic.

According to Allen Glenn Gil of Visayas State University (VSU), the academe and the private sector should have a stronger collaboration, particularly in active student immersion and real world problem-solving.

An educator at the VSU Department of Agricultural and Biosystems Engineering, Gil is also a co-founder of the Youth Leaders for Environmental Action Federation.

The participants agreed to boost youth engagement in the agri-food system and that is the need to strengthen partnerships among the different sectors, build up awareness on the value of agriculture and empower the youth through mentorship and finance opportunities for agri-business ventures.

"The conversations don't stop here because we need to act on what we have discussed here, we need to take these into actionable solutions in our respective sectors," SEARCA youth leader Sonny Pasiona said.