Bending the track
By Kara Casy,
Director of Urban Agriculture and Renewable Resources at El Centro College,
We celebrate International Youth Day on August 12th, a day to highlight and encourage the youth in our local and global community. The United Nations defines youth as the age group ranging from 15 to 24. While one-sixth of the world’s population falls into this demographic, are we truly including all youth in the opportunity to create resilient global food systems?
“Well I became pregnant, but I’m back on track now,” were the words I was unable to unhear through my new office phone at El Centro College. I wasn’t the admissions office she was looking for at the community college, as she enthusiastically stated her intentions to return to school. Encouraging, congratulating, and welcoming her back, it was a memorable moment as I transferred her to admissions.
Back on track.
For being in a field as human as education, where we differentiate instruction, we teach to different learning styles, different evaluation styles, in different venues, it struck me as particularly odd in that moment to picture something as equally human as bringing a child into the world derailing that track built exclusively for people.
Higher education is the most reliable track out of poverty. However, in a stinging ironic twist, low-income students encounter more barriers navigating this path all the way to completion.
For youth who are caring for families or loved ones at home, the track seems unyielding. Labs and finals are proctored at specific times, unphased by doctor’s appointments and childcare cancellations.
For low-income students dependent on public transportation, delays on the bus and the train complicate tight scheduling between work, family, and school. The strain can pull students off track as easily as missing that last quiz, that last exam, that last unexcused absence.
As I listened on the other end of the phone, the first teacher to welcome her back to her journey toward higher education, it felt like high time for the track to bend to meet youth where they are as whole people. Thankfully, we are working toward this end at El Centro College.
Funded by the U.S. Department of Education’s Hispanic-Serving Institutions STEM grants program, our team is working to open innovative pathways to successful transfer and graduation in STEM field degrees. In addition to making high-quality instruction in agriculture accessible for all Dallas county youth, our college courses are also offered at a fraction of the cost per credit hour.
Implementing strategic interventions like peer mentoring programs and organizing cohorts of learning communities, we’re also building resilient support networks for our students and improving retention rates along the way.
Our institution is truly serving a diverse and strong student body. Many of my students opt for part-time course loads and full-time jobs, trading in extra-curricular activities and club socials for extra working shifts at the local diner. It’s hard to argue that students with such a strong work ethic wouldn’t contribute in a meaningful way to the agricultural industry with a college degree if they’re afforded the flexibility.
AIARD also works to include youth in international agricultural development by hosting the Future Leaders Forum. Having the great fortune of participating in the forum myself, it was a valuable experience to gain insight into the various programs, offices, and agencies that support food security across the globe. With the freedom to ask any question, especially that most important question, “How did you start working here?” gave our cohort a new perspective to help inform our next crucial steps onto the job market.
On this International Youth Day, please consider how your team can begin implementing bends in your own tracks and agricultural programs to support and include a more diverse representation of all this demographic has to offer.
The Role of Women and Youth in Sustainable Agriculture and Natural Resources Management
By Tatiana LeGrand,
Sustainable Development Specialist at Agribusiness Academy
AIARD Communications Committee Chair
On the 15th of July, nations around the world celebrated the World Youth Skills Day. In defining the importance of the skills of the youth, the United Nations states that, “the active engagement of youth in sustainable development efforts is central to achieving sustainable, inclusive and stable societies by the target date, and to averting the worst threats and challenges to sustainable development, including the impacts of climate change, unemployment, poverty, gender inequality, conflict, and migration.” Through my work on sustainable development projects in the agriculture and natural resource management sectors in several countries, I have witnessed how crucial the role of young people and women can be in transforming their livelihoods and contributing to economic growth.
Having just visited Kyrgyzstan to support the USAID’s AgroHorizon project, I have seen sustainable businesses thrive once given much-needed support, providing new opportunities for employment. It is not always easy to find jobs in the agriculture sector that provide a decent salary. People in rural areas in many regions of the world rely on producing crops and raising livestock for their own consumption. Without regulations for the use of land and in the absence of knowledge about best practices in crop and livestock management, deterioration of natural resources can occur. Some examples include soil fertility decline, overuse of pastures and clearcutting of trees. Magnified by the effects of climate change and large-scale production, agricultural and natural systems face unprecedented challenges. These impacts can often be felt more acutely by women.
This, however, can be prevented and even reversed. There are many inspiring examples of young people and women starting sustainable businesses in the agriculture sector and contributing to sustainable management of natural resources. These new ideas can contribute significantly not only to economic growth, but also to creating employment opportunities and making livelihoods more resilient to the challenges exacerbated by climate change.
In Kyrgyzstan, for example, with the help of the AgroHorizon project, women have started working in fruit and vegetable processing enterprises, and they are even starting their own greenhouse businesses. In Armenia, the ENPARD project has provided women with new income opportunities. These women are now transforming the lives of their families and communities by increasing the availability of more nutritious foods. In South Africa, young people and entrepreneurs even have their own digital platform for connecting and sharing ideas.
In many countries, women, also tend to be the primary animal caretakers. Having the right to own livestock and generate the income, together with the knowledge about animal care and management practices, they can transform not only rural livelihoods, but also ecosystems.
Forest management, traditionally a man's job, can also represent diverse opportunities for women and young people, besides being an important climate mitigation strategy. In Guatemala, for example, Maya people that are engaged in community-based forest management, have not only risen out of poverty, but have also provided themselves with a source of income and reduced illegal forest clearcutting. A recent report by Rainforest Alliance even showed net forest gains in the Maya biosphere reserve!
While in many situations women’s rights and opportunities for young people might be limited, these stories give hope. Provided with knowledge, tools, and rights to own land and access to inputs, these leaders can create change and contribute to increased resilience of many rural communities.
These are just some examples that I have witnessed in recent years. Here are some more resources with additional information about these topics:
Sustainable use of natural resources and agricultural development should not be separate from economic growth. To achieve that, we have to keep on creating employment opportunities for women and young people in the agriculture sector and beyond. We can also support businesses that use natural resources in a sustainable manner and contribute to creating more resilient livelihoods.
The mission of the AIARD BLOG
The mission of the AIARD Blog is to highlight and share thoughts, ideas and work from people who have devoted their careers to global agricultural development and hunger alleviation.