The meeting halls of La Rural are a buzz, as Buenos Aires celebrates its annual agricultural show. Young farmers from Argentina, Paraguay, Uruguay, Brazil, Chile and further afield are kissing cheeks, talking energetically and exchanging contact details. We’ve just finished a session where the final remark to the young audience was –
“You are not the future. You are the present.”
This statement could not be truer. In the young farmer sessions – organized by Ateneo (the youth chapter of La Sociedad Rural Argentina) – ideas for tackling the greatest challenges faced by the agricultural industry are being fervently discussed. Global population increase, climate change, social pressures and trade policy are all on the table. How will we feed a growing global population amidst greater climatic uncertainty? How do we encourage young people to explore career opportunities in our industry – bringing with them their creative thinking and technological adeptness? How do we combat the increasing urban disconnect from food and farming? How are we going to empower the youth of our agricultural industries to be influential ambassadors, collaborate with peers around the world, and ensure talent security in our rural communities?
The hurdles facing the next generation of food and fibre producers are great. There’s no denying it. The combined challenges of feeding a growing number of people on the planet, with reduced environmental footprint, on a backdrop of social pressures and climate change, ask more of farmers than ever before.
So, the importance of equipping young people in agriculture with the skills and knowledge to adapt and thrive cannot be overstated. We must build the support structures now in policy and institutions that are forward-thinking, ambitious and embrace intergenerational equity.
A recurring conversation between the young Australian farmers and those in South America has been the drought that these parts of the world are currently experiencing. Argentinians describe how failed crops have adversely impacted on the national economy while the Australians show heartbreaking images of undernourished stock, emaciated kangaroos and barren paddocks. The projections that drought events will become more frequent and intense are a concern for all of us, and how to deal with the greatest threat of our generation – climate change – is discussed over many hours and cups of yerba mate.
Being in a room of young farmers is an energizing experience. They are well-educated, tech-savvy and highly connected. They also care deeply about their futures on the land and have powerful committed voices. As an example of their drive and leadership – young farmers are calling on their governments to do more to prevent harmful climate change impacts. They say the failure to protect their future by slow or inadequate action violates their rights to life, liberty and property enjoyed by previous generations. The idleness in setting in place policies and structures to reduce pollution emissions exacerbates the risk and intensity of droughts, pest-outbreaks and floods – severely impacting those setting out on a career in agriculture.
But the solutions to these challenges are available now. And young people are championing them.
Throughout South America and Australia there are innovative young people working in genetics, soil science, irrigation engineering, carbon capture research, and are installing solar panels on their farmhouse roofs – they are powering ahead in novel solutions, technology development and sharing their stories widely.
Our leaders must not only acknowledge their contribution, but actively seek the input of the farming youth, to implement measures that effectively protect young citizens from the foreseeable impacts of the ‘mega-challenges’ like climate change, and provide the platforms for young people to rewrite the narrative.
Above the La Rural main arena, near the meeting halls where the young farmers have met, hang the words Cultivar el suelo es servir a la Patria – “To cultivate the soil is to serve the nation.”
When planning a brighter future in agriculture, we need to be guided by its young people – drawing upon their energy, creativity and courage for positive change. Because those young farmers who are picking up the tools and walking out into the fields of their future are involved with the improvement of this industry and are making a meaningful contribution to food security, the protection of the landscapes we call home, and the vibrancy of rural communities that we love. And they have a vested interest in designing truly productive, resilient and sustainable farming systems.