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On 9 August, 2021 the world’s leading climate scientists delivered their starkest warning yet about the deepening climate emergency. Sustainable food systems and climate change are pressing global issues that go hand in hand. Will these challenges be left to the youth because they will be most affected? This article will explore what role OER can play in empowering youth to transform food systems.

International Youth Day, which takes place on 12 August, aims to bring youth issues and challenges to the attention of the international community while also celebrating the potential of youth as partners in today’s global society.

Glover and Sumberg [1] explain why the youth are an important demographic:

Today's youth generation is the largest in history, and the global population of young people is concentrated in low- and middle-income countries located in South and East Asia and Africa (The World Bank, 2006; IFAD, 2019). The interests and needs of this youth generation are important, not only because they are many, but because they will need–indeed, they are entitled to expect–decent work and livelihoods, as well as long and healthy lives; yet, to achieve this objective for so many people will be challenging in an era of ecological stress. From a development perspective, today's youth generation is on the front line: it will have to cope with the effects of environmental and climate change, which are likely to accelerate and intensify during their lifetimes and those of their children.

The 2021 theme for International Youth Day is ‘Transforming Food Systems: Youth Innovation for Human and Planetary Health’. In Africa, food security and sustainable farming practices have always been important. While the agricultural industry continues to be the largest source of employment in many African countries, off-farm food-related activities are expected to be important for future job opportunities, including for youth.[2]

Stakeholders in the educational and agricultural sectors need to ensure that youth have the support mechanisms to amplify efforts collectively and individually to protect the Earth and life, while integrating biodiversity in the transformation of food systems. Given the planet’s growing population, producing sufficient healthier food sustainably will not ensure human and planetary wellbeing if other crucial challenges are not also tackled, such as social inclusion, health care, biodiversity conservation, and climate change mitigation. [3]

Empowered youths can lead community development efforts to facilitate the improvement of lives in their community, appreciating and supporting cultural differences, and being custodians of the land, water and wildlife. Youth in Africa are expressing strong readiness and passion in actively contributing to the processes of delivering solutions that transform food systems. [4]

The next generation recognises that our future depends on functioning food systems, and at the same time, it is Africa’s youth that holds the power to deliver them. To begin with, young Africans are informed and educated, alert to the twin threats to our prosperity of malnutrition and climate change. We do not farm like our parents and grandparents farmed, nor do we eat the way our forebears ate.

 – Mike Nkhombo Khunga, Scaling Up Nutrition (SUN) Global Youth Leader, Malawi, and vice-chair of the UN Food Systems Summit's Action Track 5: building resilience to vulnerabilities, shocks and stresses [5]

How can OER empower youth to fulfil this role?

Technical and Vocational Training (TVET) in agriculture faces specific challenges, such as a lack of formalized training programmes and agriculture not being an aspirational career.[6] OER can be used as an important building block for skills development in the TVET sector. This is especially important in the field of agriculture and food systems, as openly licensed content can be contextualized and adapted to be culturally and environmentally relevant, while documenting agricultural practices can help to share these beyond local communities. Agricultural content for TVET needs to be linked to advances in technology, facilitate innovation, and have greater relevance to a diverse and evolving agricultural sector, with a focus on agribusiness and entrepreneurship. Digital technologies, OER, and open education practices in this sector can provide access to innovative models of agricultural processes and marketing that may not have been accessible before. They can also provide a means for sharing this knowledge from one generation to the next, despite the change in many rural societies where more children are enrolled in school and spend less time in the fields with their elders. Open education practices can, when well implemented, contribute to reduce the costs of producing and distributing course material, expand access, meeting the needs of learners in different contexts, and therefore be beneficial to learners in the developing world. 

OERs can contribute to making informal and formal skills training accessible and affordable  in the farming and food systems industries. Beyond technical skills, building capacity for effective management, decision-making, communication, and leadership are required to create jobs in the agricultural sector. OERs can be part of finding, implementing, and sharing innovative solutions to make employment in food systems appealing and to strengthen different sectors managing our food from farm to fork, while ensuring the existing knowledge is not lost on the way. These OERs can be integrated or adapted for community development programmes or used for informal learning if they are accessible, thereby enabling and supporting youth to become leaders in the development of sustainable and resilient food systems.

  • OER Africa has resources on food security and African agricultural practices, some of which were developed as part of a programme to train household food security facilitators to work as change agents in the areas of agriculture, food and nutrition using participatory learning in a structured environment focusing on households within communities.

All the resources developed for this programme are available here:  https://www.oerafrica.org/household-food-security-programme

  • The Young Professionals for Agricultural Development website has some suggestions for ways to engage youth in agriculture.
  • Digital Green works with partners to create digital solutions to assist rural communities and increase the effectiveness of smallholder farmers in the developing world. These solutions are shared using a CC BY licence and include production and dissemination of community videos to share knowledge [7] and using open-source software to share data to assist farmers boost agricultural productivity and food security.
  • African Women in Agricultural Research and Development (AWARD) works toward inclusive, agriculture-driven prosperity for Africa by strengthening the production and dissemination of more gender-responsive agricultural research and innovation. AWARD invests in African scientists, research institutions, and agribusinesses so that they can deliver agricultural innovations that better respond to the needs and priorities of a diversity of women and men across Africa’s agricultural value chains.
  • This toolkit synthesizes a decade of learnings and resources from agriculture and forestry mentoring programmes implemented by Young Professionals for Agricultural Development (YPARD), the International Forestry Students’ Association (IFSA) and AWARD.
  • This NEPAD concept note provides information on how to curate openly licensed skills development course materials and content aimed at African youth.

There is increasing urgency to tackle global issues such as climate change and food system challenges. African youth lie at the centre of opportunities to galvanize and sustain positive change at a systemic level and OER provide an invaluable tool to assist them with the skills and knowledge to do so.



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[1] Glover D and Sumberg J. (2020). Youth and Food Systems Transformation. Frontiers in Sustainable Food Systems. 4:101. https://www.frontiersin.org/articles/10.3389/fsufs.2020.00101/full

[2] Townsend et al., 2017 in Glover D and Sumberg J. (2020). Youth and Food Systems Transformation. Frontiers in Sustainable Food Systems. 4:101. https://www.frontiersin.org/articles/10.3389/fsufs.2020.00101/full

[6] Brown, T., and Majumdar, S. (2020). ‘Agricultural TVET in developing economies: Challenges and possibilities’ UNEVOC Network Discussion Paper. Available from www.unevoc.unesco.org/l/687

 

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