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YouthActionNet Blog

The Youth-led Agriculture Renaissance

Lisa Jones | June 18, 2015

For the first time in history, more than half of the world’s population lives in cities. The demographic fueling urbanization the most is youth, who are 40% more likely than older generations to move from rural to urban areas, often seeking increased access to education, formalized work opportunities, or a better standard of living.1 While young adults pursue prospects far from the rural settings and villages where they were born, who is left to sow the land they leave behind?

Says Cherrie Atliano, a young social entrepreneur from the Philippines: “In developing countries, it’s scandalous that the people who produce the food are the poorest and the hungriest. Young people are abandoning the countryside to seek better opportunities in urban areas. We can’t blame them, as they have seen the poverty that farming bestowed upon their parents.”

While many youth dismiss agriculture, some of their social-minded peers see the increasing demands in the field and have begun transforming one of the world’s oldest sectors into a hub for innovation and inclusive growth. From applying technology to make cultivation more efficient, to harnessing the industry to protect the environment and increase public health, the surprising drivers behind this burgeoning agriculture renaissance come from the same generation that has often overlooked farming altogether.

‘Smart, Cool and Sexy’: Redefining the Culture of Agriculture

From a young age, Cherrie found her passion in supporting agriculture in her country—in high school, she volunteered to teach English to subsistence farmers in her village to help them sell their surpluses at city markets. Recognizing the urban migration taking place, after college Cherrie founded Agricool with the goal of making farming in the Philippines ‘smart, cool, and sexy.’ Agricool encourages the younger generation to pursue careers in agriculture-related enterprises by showing them that farming is more than getting your hands dirty—it’s entrepreneurship, marketing, science, and  innovation. After nurturing the skills and livelihoods of 50 farmers and transforming wasted land into a productive agriculture cooperative, Cherrie recently founded a new venture, AGREA, which promotes an ‘ecology of dignity’ focused on fair-trade, sustainable agriculture and replicable models of agri-based economies in developing countries.

Using Aeroponics to Provide ‘Roof to Table’ Produce

Through VertiFarms, Kevin Morgan-Rothschild develops rooftop, aeroponic gardens to provide fresh, locally-grown produce to residents of the city of New Orleans. The advanced technology that VertiFarms employs—plants are grown in vertical towers in a water and mineral-nutrient solution—uses 90% less water than traditional agriculture. The company’s carbon footprint is also reduced by eliminating the need to transport food over long distances. Vegetables produced on the rooftops of supermarkets, restaurants, and even schools are available to consumers below. Kevin sees the rift between where people live and where their food is grown as a global challenge—that’s why he recently partnered with Les Fermes De Gally, a French agriculture company, to expand his aquaponic gardening model across Europe.

Healing Communities through Shared Gardens

Sarah Koch founded Development in Gardening (DIG) to empower African communities to develop sustainable shared gardens, improving nutrition and quality of life for vulnerable populations including pregnant women, small children, and HIV positive individuals. DIG’s smallholder farming programs provide hundreds of families with a renewed sense of personal potential and commitment to taking care of the community unit, and school garden programs teach children and their parents how and why to eat healthy, and are the main food source for thousands of pupils in nine countries across Africa. DIG’s unique Garbage to Greens initiative improves the environment and community morale by transforming vacant spaces where waste collects into lush, abundant gardens.

Rethinking Animal Feed to Increase Smallholder Profits

Mene Blessing Orits, co-founder of UNFIRE, tackles the problem of expensive poultry and livestock feed in Nigeria, where smallholder farmers produce over 70% of poultry and livestock, yet 80% live below $2 per day.2 Mene’s creative solution is a new feed blend formulated using mango seed kernels, elephant grass, and cassava waste from milling plants that is highly nutritional and costs 60-80% less than traditional feed. Through its innovative low-cost feeds, UNFIRE increases the income and productivity of smallholder farmers while making protein-rich food more available and affordable in rural Nigeria. UNFIRE not only taps into new sustainable sources for feed, it also uses a community-based model that empowers rural women with the skills and materials they need to start their own agriculture enterprises.

A Buzz-worthy Solution to Protect Crops and Wildlife

In Uganda, as areas for wildlife to roam dwindle, elephant crop raiding is a common problem that results in elephant killings and devastating crop losses. As a solution, Benjamin Sunday helped community members in the Kataara region establish a beekeeping enterprise along the community’s border with a national park. Since elephants fear bees, they are kept at bay peacefully, and farmers’ incomes increase as their crops are protected and the bees generate new revenue. Benjamin has organized more than 60 community members into a savings and loan cooperative, enabling farmers to access micro-credit to purchase beehives and invest in the community's beekeeping enterprise. In addition to selling honey and wax from the bees, villagers are now using their farms and the hives to promote local agro-tourism.

Promoting Gender Equality by Empowering Women Farmers

In the southern highlands of Peru, women do much of the same agricultural work as men, in addition to caring for their children and homes. However, their work is not sufficiently valued, leading to under-representation in the management of water users’ organizations and land ownership.3 Inmaculada Quispe founded Asociación de Mujeres "Valicha" to assess the rights, leadership and participation of women from peasant communities and contribute to the process of local development in these remote mountain regions. Valicha strengthens existing women’s agriculture groups such as cuy and dairy cow breeders by providing technical assessments, access to better markets and workshops to teach women about their rights.

Traditional Industries as Hubs for Social Innovation

These innovative projects led by young people in six countries are just a few examples of the many ventures in our network that are not only using agriculture to improve food security and fuel economic development, but are transforming the field into a hub for creativity, inclusivity, health, and environmental sustainability. While many youth around the globe set their sights on increasingly crowded cities, these change makers believe that it is fields, farms, and green spaces where the greatest growth can happen.

To learn about more young social entrepreneurs who are transforming existing industries into hubs for social impact, read about these women using #STEM for change.



1: 2014 World Urbanization Prospects, United Nations
2: 2011 Rural Poverty Report, International Fund for Agricultural Development
3: Empowering Women in Irrigation Management: The Sierra in Peru, The World Bank