In order to feed a world of nine billion people by 2050, we need more people working in agriculture in all its forms. Despite the universal agreement on the importance of agriculture to our future, we are not succeeding in attracting young people to the field. While the reasons for this are many, we believe that one central problem in the context of capacity-development programs is insufficient attention to the creation and maintenance of meaningful and supportive networks post-program.
Many excellent capacity-development programs for young agricultural leaders exist; a few inspiring examples have already been mentioned in this discussion. To the credit of those programs illustrated here, several highlight the importance of their post-program network. We see formal, committed networks – which, depending on context, might connect people in a particular geographical area; build relationships between new farmers and experienced ones; improve integration between various actors along the food value chain; provide fora for discussing problems and solutions across locales; and more – as serving many functions in supporting impactful young agricultural leaders. First, being part of a formal network helps increase access to investment and mitigate risk, since networks multiply connections. This fact is particularly essential to youth, whose individual networks may not provide the resources they need to begin their careers in agriculture. Second, networks, even largely virtual ones, help to satisfy social needs that can be compromised when one chooses a life in agriculture. They also provide opportunities for formal and informal mentorship. Third, and perhaps most importantly, active networks create an enabling environment in which partnerships between agripreneurs are born. Active networks can be considered in some ways as incubators for grassroots problem-solving of not only SDG2 but many of the other goals as well.
Modern technology can and should absolutely play a central role in establishing and maintaining networks of support, enabling knowledge sharing, and encouraging innovation. While having strong connections with other farmers and agripreneurs in one’s geographical area provides one type of essential support, the nature of technology provides a complement to local knowledge in the form of geographically diverse problem solving. Activating such networks is not only a key way to fast-track the implementation of solutions; it is also a way to clarify to young agricultural leaders that they are part of a meaningful global profession, not a lone farmer in the field.
If we wish to celebrate agriculture as a profession that is modern, profitable, and cool, then farmers and agripreneurs cannot be perceived as isolated people hidden in rural locales. They must be socially, intellectually, and financially engaged with other farmers, processors, distributors, vendors, researchers, restaurateurs, and all food chain actors. Accomplishing this means investing not only in capacity development programs themselves but also in post-program networks that are productive, solutions-oriented, and specifically designed to meet young agricultural leaders’ needs.