Let’s admit it — small-scale farming in the Caribbean has been struggling with an image problem. Many, especially young people, still think of it as back-breaking, sun-drenching labour, without an attractive economic pay-off and little prospect for career advancement. Additionally, although a global challenge, Caribbean farming is still dominated by an aging population of farmers. In order to change the profile of Caribbean farmers, it is therefore imperative for states across the region to attract more young people and intensify training offerings. In this article, we will outline how both can be achieved through strategic partnerships within the Caribbean, with the Caribbean Farmers’ Network (CaFAN) as the nexus.
In many of our member states, stagnant economic development in rural communities is perceived as being directly connected to a decline in agricultural vibrancy. An injection of vigour, such as that which accompanies youth, is needed to resuscitate the sector. According to Mark Holderness, Executive Secretary of the Global Forum for Agricultural Research (GFAR), “young people can transform the agricultural sector by applying new technologies and new thinking”. Indeed, the wind of change for greater inclusion has already started in many states – originating from the youths themselves. How can we help them to have greater involvement in the industry? How can we ensure that future policies allow them room to innovate the industry and reassert its relevance?
Through its reach across the region, CaFAN has been able to organize stakeholder consultations and produce documentation which can be used to secure greater support from governments to develop enabling policies that would increase the participation of youths in the agriculture industry. Each member organization could build on this by demonstrating to educators and the private sector how their support can build an efficient and profitable industry which is perceived as intellectually stimulating and economically feasible as a career path. Indeed, greater inclusion of youths can help us to unlock opportunities in areas such as:
· Bio-dynamic farming, Permaculture design, Pharmaceuticals, Nutraceuticals, Agro processing. Marketing
· Logistics, Communication & advanced technologies , Food preparation, Environmental sciences technologies
For us to convert this list into reality however, we need to implement training programmes that will expose our youths to the possibilities that exist in these and other areas.
Supporting the Role of CaFAN
CaFAN has sought to reinvigorate the regional agriculture industry through actions such as conducting capacity building workshops and training programmes and by promoting young farm leaders. As member organizations, we must commit to deepening the impact of such initiatives. We can do this by:
Implementing farm management training programmes that expose new and existing farmers to good agricultural practices, sustainable farming techniques and sound financial practices that will allow them to earn greater financial rewards and better support themselves and their families.
Creating opportunities for famers of different gender, age and experience levels to network and collaborate. This could create a spawning ground from which partnerships and creative approaches to agriculture emerge.
· Involving youths in lobbying efforts and the policy development process so their voices can also be used to influence government leaders to take action on crucial areas such as infrastructure development, climate change, water and farm land availability, and food security.
· Creating Think Tanks to bring together local stakeholders working to strengthen the industry and engage in agricultural research for development. This Think Tank would raise awareness of the challenges faced by smallholders and help to identify efficient solutions.
These and other initiatives can make agriculture more appealing and help to change the overall perception of the industry. If we continue to use our voices and expertise to create a growth-enabling environment for agriculture, we will soon begin to reap the benefits at a national and regional level. We at Kevoy Community Development Institute (KCDI) Jamaica are committed to supporting the CaFAN and to collaborating with other members of the network to transform the profile of agriculture and strengthen its role in the region’s development.