SEARCA youth camp take stock of agri-food system challenges and best practices

LOS BAÑOS, Laguna --The first virtual youth camp organized by the Southeast Asian Regional Center for Graduate Study and Research in Agriculture (SEARCA) convened young professionals, agripreneurs, public servants, and students who lead projects and advocate for Philippine agriculture last June 19 via Zoom.

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

Two United Nations (UN) Food Systems Champions—Dr. Glenn B. Gregorio, SEARCA Director, and Cherrie Atilano, AGREA President and Department of Agriculture (DA) Food Security Ambassadress—shared their experience in agriculture and underscored the role that young people can play in transforming food systems.

"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," Dr. Gregorio said.

He added that the virtual youth camp was organized by the members of the SEARCA Young Ambassadors Platform (SAYAP) under the Young Forces for Agricultural Innovation (#Y4AGRI), SEARCA's banner youth initiative until 2025.

On the other hand, Atilano stressed that young people can change the game and narrative of agriculture.

"Food is our umbilical cord to Mother Earth. It's something that all of us, especially young people, should think about," she added.

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

The challenges in engaging the youth in the agri-food system they identified 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.

Their consensus on the best practices among the youth were 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.

"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; 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.

Allen Glenn Gil of Visayas State University (VSU) said the academe and the private sector should have a stronger collaboration, particularly in active student immersion and real-world problem solving. Gil is an educator at the VSU Department of Agricultural and Biosystems Engineering and co-founder of the Youth Leaders for Environmental Action Federation.

The participants were in agreement that to boost youth engagement in the agri-food system, there is 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 act on what we have discussed here, we need to take these into actionable solutions in our respective sectors," affirmed SEARCA youth lead Sonny Pasiona.