Caribbean food insecurity post-COVID and Ukraine (Part III)
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Attracting Caribbean youth to agriculture

AGRICULTURE has no future without youth involvement; and there’s been no time like today to attract tomorrow’s people to the noble job of feeding the world, and keeping populations alive, and healthy.

Young people everywhere won’t just drop their computers and other devices to pick up pickaxes and hoes, cutlasses and shovels to plant dasheen, yam, banana, cabbage, lettuce and tomatoes, grow rice or plant cassava, even if it pays better than playing games Online.

But the past decade has seen the introduction of digitisation to agriculture through ‘Apps’ that help rural farmers in Africa and India to better communicate with purchasers, and market their products.
This has certainly attracted some interest among Caribbean youth with innovative and forward-looking ideas about pursuing new start-ups, but lacking the investment capital to start off.

Today, children across the region plant vegetable and flower gardens, and reap fruit and flowers on their devices, but pre-digital parents still see and treat agriculture like a ‘dirty’ job they wouldn’t want for those same children.

However, Caribbean decision-makers must quickly find innovative ways to connect with the young, energised and digitised minds just waiting to be harvested.
The Caribbean Community (CARICOM) is nowhere near starting to take advantage of digitising agriculture, but countries elsewhere are already doing just that, and with the full support of the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO).

Azerbaijan has been a leader in this field, having introduced an ambitious Electronic Agricultural Information System (EKTIS) that allows the government to support the sector in new and better ways.

Earlier this month, a conference was held there themed, ‘Vision for the Future: Transition to Digital Agriculture’, at which FAO Director-General Qu Dongyu noted that “Digital agriculture has great potential to foster the transformation of agri-food systems and promote rural development.”

He added that, “Digital innovation can unlock employment opportunities, bridge the rural divide, and empower youth and women” and “support evidence-based policy, planning and implementation to improve efficiency and reduce negative environmental impacts…”

The Director-General said, “Data, digitalisation and innovation are key accelerators to achieve this transformation,” and pointed out that FAO is “supporting several countries to develop national digital agriculture strategies, as the first step to ensure delivery of meaningful services and data to people in rural areas, and to promote bottom-up technology-driven innovations.”

According to Qu, “The challenges our agri-food systems face require our collective, efficient, effective and coherent action…”
Pointing to FAO virtual learning centres and targeted digital literacy initiatives to strengthen the capacity of farmers and other actors to respond to the challenges, the Director-General said, “Developing human capital is essential to unleash the potential of digital agriculture.”

He, however, assured his audience that the FAO, “is committed to leveraging the potential of digital technologies” to achieve “better production, nutrition, environment and life for all, leaving no one behind”.
He noted that in rural areas, digital technologies can be leveraged to address multiple market failures, and facilitate smallholder farmers’ integration into markets.
But, he also underlined that “The acceleration of digitalisation in agriculture must also safeguard basic human rights by ensuring affordable access to digital technologies, digital literacy and digital public goods, for everyone.”

The FAO’s ultimate aim, the Director-General said, is “to massify digital benefits to ensure no one is left behind, through promoting the use and adoption of digital technologies and promoting a policy agenda and public investments”.

The FAO has helped nations develop e-governance tools such as Identification Systems for Animal Health and Farm Accountancy Data Networks, and its International Platform for Digital Food and Agriculture will soon be fully operational.

Other related FAO initiatives include: Provision of Digital Public Goods (like the ‘Hand-in-Hand Geospatial Platform’), the ongoing ‘1,000 Digital Villages Initiative’, the ‘e-Agriculture Strategy Guide’ and other contributions to the ‘UN Secretary-General’s Roadmap for Digital Cooperation’.

In the Caribbean region, like other developing regions globally, the slow transfer of and adjustment to new technologies is itself slowing down, as more young people adopt and adapt, and more public service employees, like everyone else, have had to unwind from the past and upgrade to the present digital means of communication and service delivery.

Thanks to digitisation, people everywhere can learn from the successful examples (and mistakes) of application of digitisation to agriculture, but the CARICOM region will need to quickly find the best ways of encouraging national governments to embrace and attract youth to ‘IT in Agri’.

Qu is absolutely correct that “Digital innovation can unlock employment opportunities, bridge the rural divide and empower youth and women…”
And the Youth Economy, a relatively new concept for national development in this region, is underway in Saint Lucia, and aimed at encouraging traditional public and private institutions and entities to revisit their policies, and make them more friendly to youth with new and workable ideas, integrate them into the national economy, and turn their hobbies into paychecks.

So important is this approach to the current Saint Lucia government that Prime Minister Philip J. Pierre’s official title is: ‘Prime Minister and Minister for Finance, Economic Development and The Youth Economy’.

Pierre’s dream is for Saint Lucia to eventually have “one university graduate per household”, but, unlike Guyana, the island doesn’t have an Online Academy of Learning (GOAL); similarly, 238-square-mile (616 square-kilometers) Saint Lucia will not have enough land to eventually facilitate all the youth who’ll want to embrace digital agriculture, but Guyana has more land than it’ll be able to develop alone.

Can Guyana, responsible for Food Security within CARICOM, eventually become a regional base for the introduction of digitised agriculture to Caribbean youth, with an emphasis on produce and products that not only have commercial, but most importantly, nutritional and health value?

Of course, it can, but how fast that can happen will depend solely on the speed with which regional leaders, governments, agriculture ministers and ministries can see the need to advance thinking and action beyond metrification.

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