Innovating for food system transformation
Rural communities are ageing: the average age of a farmer is 60 years old. Young people are increasingly migrating to urban areas due to a lack of attractive employment opportunities, services, and facilities in rural areas. Their parents tell them to avoid a heavy job in agriculture, and those who do see themselves as a farmer do not find it easy to obtain land to develop their own activities. Either the investment is too great, or they have difficulties in being allowed to operate independently of organisations or their family. Young entrepreneurial spirits have limited access to finance to make initial investments, they have no collateral and no track record. In addition, youth representation in cooperative leadership and policy- and decision-making is often non-existent.
The increased migration to urban areas also poses new challenges for cities, as it drives up urban food demand. How can we tackle both these challenges that are so closely interlinked? How can we, as a society, harness the potential of young farmers and food entrepreneurs?
For Rikolto, investing in young people means investing in the future of our food systems: they are powerful leaders of change who can transform our food systems, bringing in innovation and fresh ideas.
The participation of young people (which we define as aged 18-35) is a cross-cutting issue in our global programme strategies: sustainable production, inclusive markets and enabling environments.
First, at the level of sustainable production, we look beyond farms to whole food systems, in the search for meaningful employment opportunities for young people. We create opportunities in rural areas for young women and men and empower them to revitalise value chains and food systems through innovation. These opportunities can range from production to processing, marketing and quality checking to creating their own start-ups. We also support farmer organisations to become solid business partners and to implement future-proof, sustainable practices. This includes increasing youth participation in their membership base and governance systems.
Second, we work towards inclusive markets with space for young entrepreneurs. Rikolto sets up food incubators in cities across the globe, where rural and urban young people find the tools to kick-start their business ideas to make local urban food systems more sustainable. In rural areas, we support young entrepreneurs to set up their own businesses, delivering services to farmers.
Third, we strive for an enabling environment addressing the challenges with which young people working in agri-food are confronted. We bring together universities, farmers’ organisations, NGOs, companies, and governments to join forces to create new opportunities for young people. We are well positioned to contribute to the development of this enabling environment, because of our networks in rural areas, our links with cities and actors of the food system, including decision makers.
Of course, none of this means bypassing older generations of farmers and entrepreneurs, but rather facilitating intergenerational collaboration.
We especially focus on creating opportunities for young producers and entrepreneurs, in which urban consumption and nearby rural production are linked. It can mean that, when we accompany farmer organisations on their professionalisation trajectory, we focus on creating new opportunities for young people within these organisations.
It can also look like business incubators for young entrepreneurs with a dream to develop a business revolving around sustainable or healthy food. In our Generation Food projects in Tanzania, Uganda, Burkina Faso, Ecuador and Belgium, rural and urban youth find the tools to kick-start their business ideas for making local urban food systems more sustainable. The business creation and incubation programme aims to create sustainable food businesses that can pull the demand for and push the supply of healthy food in cities. What Generation Food has in common around the world: a partnership with city governments, private actors and universities, and passionate youngsters that want to change our food system for the better while earning an income.
In our cocoa and coffee programme, we create opportunities in rural areas for young women and men, ranging from production to processing, marketing and quality checking to creating their own start-ups. In Ecuador, we support young people to become the internal inspectors in the certification processes of UOPROCAE, an umbrella organisation of cocoa producers. They are trained in cocoa quality and certification procedures. In Peru, we are working with the young people of the Chirinos coffee cooperative to set up a specific business run by the youth committee: they are now exploring the production and marketing of a new aromatic drink, under the brand “Aroma Chirinos”, with coffee husk as the main ingredient.
Furthermore, we support young entrepreneurs in setting up their own businesses, delivering services such as sales of seedlings and fertilisers, pruning, harvesting, and so on to cocoa and coffee farmers. In Eastern DR Congo, Rikolto has been supporting young men and women to start tree nurseries and sell the young plants to the members of four coffee cooperatives. Within the framework of the PASA-NK programme funded by IFAD, young entrepreneurs have produced and sold 816,950 seedlings in Lubero and Beni in 2019. In Indonesia, we trained 50 young people from Polewali Mandar District in digital farming basics/the Internet of Things (IoT) & digital marketing, as part of an ASEAN Foundation and Maybank Foundation funded project. Meanwhile, they developed a digital marketing platform for cocoa beans, 4 prototypes (e.g. a temperature sensor for fermentation units) and 3 cocoa-based products (2 single-origin cocoa bars and one cocoa-ginger drink powder).
Rice production is largely in the hands of ageing farmers. This generational problem undermines the sustainability of the rice sector in the medium and long term. As part of our rice programme, we support young people in taking up a role as rice producers, as actors in other parts of the rice value chain or as service providers to the rice sector. We also work towards increased youth participation in collective decision-making within member organisations and rice sector bodies. In our sustainable rice programme, we support cooperatives to adopt the SRP standard; it also has requirements which are specifically relevant to the inclusion of young people.