Betting on driven youngsters is a winning choice

Betting on driven youngsters is a winning choice

in News
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Heleen Verlinden
Heleen Verlinden
International Communications

Today, 12 August marks International Youth Day. This year’s theme, “Transforming food systems: youth innovation for human and planetary health”, highlights the crucial role that young people play in revitalising and amplifying efforts to transform our food systems, with respect for our planet and the people on it.

For Rikolto, youth engagement is a key transversal topic in our programmes, and across our organisation some of our colleagues have taken a special interest in this, opening up opportunities for young people. Some of them are young in age, others young of mind, and all of them have a passion to invest in the untapped potential of young farmers and entrepreneurs.

For over a year, Hilda has used her passion for gender equality and youth inclusion to help women and young people get involved in agriculture. Nothing inspires her more than seeing young people get passionate about improving the agribusiness sector. As coordinator of the Generation Food incubator in Arusha, she helps young entrepreneurs who want to start a food business or make their business more sustainable. This is done through innovative concepts like bootcamps and hackathons, with the support of Stichting Doen.

Dorothea Laizer, one of the Generation Food participants, has left a lasting impression on Hilda: she saw the high rates of fruit and vegetable post-harvest losses as an opportunity to develop an innovative business model that includes the provision of cold rooms to farmers and also a linkage to vendors in urban markets. She is a stay-at-home mum who powered through many hick-ups and now supplies watermelons, potatoes and tomatoes to 4 vendors.

Hilda Okoth
Hilda Okoth
Food Smart City & Youth Agribusiness Advisor

Rafiki has been with Rikolto in the DR Congo for 9 years. He’s not afraid of a challenge, he says, “because a challenge allows me to think a lot and express my full potential.”

He has met many young farmers, but the story of one young man will stay with him forever. It’s the story of Baraka Kiyana, a young nursery owner from Rugetsi, in Beni territory, North Kivu, whom he met in 2012. “At that time, Baraka was working with his father, who owned a nursery for coffee plants, and was teaching his son everything he knew. Baraka saw how his father supported his family, and this encouraged him to set up his own coffee seedling nursery”, says Rafiki. What inspired Rafiki most is the young nursery owner’s business vision: “He’s not a wait-and-see guy. Today, thanks to Rikolto's training, he says that his business is profitable when he produces and sells at least 15,000 Arabica coffee seedlings. He is one of the best nurserymen I have met.”

Rafiki Kalulu
Coffee & rice value chain expert

During her first year of working at Rikolto, Yvonne has supported young cocoa farmer members of the Kuapa Kokoo Farmers Union to improve their income focused on cocoa productivity, income diversification and access to finance. Young farmers have received training in different areas of production, maintenance, pruning and spraying, and are now setting up SMEs to offer these services to other cocoa farmers in the area. This is part of the Way to Go project funded by Lidl International in collaboration with Fairtrade.

“The energy with which young people take to cocoa farming, and next to that also other side businesses such as yam and plantain production, is incredible. Not only does it provide them with additional income, but diversification is also environmentally a much better approach to cocoa farming.”

Yvonne Arden
Yvonne Arden
Cocoa project officer

After an internship, Naomi started working full time for our GoodFood@School programme in October 2020. As part of her job, she interacts directly with high school students, whom she tries to motivate to learn more about sustainable food, to change the food policies at their schools and to influence their fellow students' mindsets.

She didn’t expect to see so many young people eager to create a real impact in their own schools. “In one of the participating schools, the students wanted to break through prejudices about plant-based food. Therefore, they sold plant-based pastries at a school event but revealed the fact that they were plant-based only after selling out”, she recalls. “They sent a survey to all their fellow students to investigate what they thought about their action and received a ton of positive reactions. Many students also responded that they were more open to trying vegetarian and vegan food now that they discovered it can taste this good. It worked much better than if someone from Rikolto or the teachers would have simply taught a class about plant-based food.”

Naomi Dries
Naomi Dries
Program Advisor GoodFood@School

Our colleague Lith has been with Rikolto for four years. She has accompanied the paths of young sons and daughters of coffee farmers, who have gone from being support workers on farms to becoming part of the technical teams in coffee farmer organisations. In challenging moments, her motto is: “I work so that other young people have opportunities, just as I had the good fortune of having”.

Success stories of working with and for young people in the coffee sector in Peru are due in large part to her commitment and enthusiasm. The story of Onaida Mijahuanca is one of them: “ It’s a story that defies the statistics that say that the countryside is not profitable for young people, a story that has taught me that it is worth fighting for a dream and building hope".

Lith Montes
Lith Montes
Coordinadora del programa Ingresos dignos y resilientes en Café | Perú

For over 19 years, Peni has been working with Rikolto in Indonesia. Gradually, he has started to see how change is often in the hands of young people, who inspire those around them to innovate and experiment.

He recalls meeting Hasani, a young cocoa farmer from the MAM cooperative in Polewali Mandar regency, South Sulawesi. Unlike most of his fellow students, he didn’t leave his village to go and work in the city. Instead, he saw the potential of growing cocoa right in his very own village. “Hasani started experimenting and successfully producing fermented cocoa, but also organic pesticide and goat farming to support integrated farming practices. He ended up managing village-owned enterprises!”

Peni Agustijanto
Peni Agustijanto
Cocoa Sector Manager
+62 811-3854-464

Hanh believes in life-long learning, and a quote that inspires her in her job and personal life is Steve Jobs’ “Stay hungry, stay foolish”.

As PLA officer, she has made many partner visits in the past few years, and has had the luck of often meeting inspiring young farmers. One of the stories that struck her most, is that of Nguyen Van Nghia, who became the driving force behind a cooperative producing safe vegetables in Vietnam’s Phu Tho province. “It’s not just inspiring that as a young person he made this cooperative successful against all odds, but also that in doing so, he has created opportunities for many people in the area, including youth”, says Hanh.

Le Hong Hanh
Le Hong Hanh
Junior Planning Learning and Accountability Officer
+84-24 6258 3640/41 - ext. 36

What drives their work?

With the world’s population continuing to grow year by year, it is becoming clearer that challenges intersecting with our food system must also be tackled, such as climate change, biodiversity conservation, poverty reduction and social inclusion. Young farmers and entrepreneurs often have fresh perspectives and innovative ideas to offer, and can be the driving force behind the much-needed food system change. Yet for lack of opportunities and support, an increasing number of young people head for the city in search of a better life, further driving up urban food demand.

Here at Rikolto, we want to harness the potential of young farmers and food entrepreneurs by contributing to an enabling environment for youth participation in the agri-food system. This means:

  • Looking beyond farms to whole food systems in the search for meaningful youth employment opportunities, especially in linking urban consumption and nearby rural production
  • Supporting young entrepreneurs through agri-food incubators
  • Facilitating multi-stakeholder collaboration around youth engagement

As a key part of this work, our programmes are aimed at strengthening the skills of young entrepreneurs, encouraging farmers’ organisations to cultivate an inclusive culture that allows young people to flourish, involving rural youth in the development of climate adaptation strategies, and empowering them to incorporate the use of digital tools in family agriculture. Of course, this in no way means bypassing older generations of farmers and entrepreneurs, but rather facilitating intergenerational collaboration.