The Innovation of Youth: The Key to Global Food Security
This article was originally written by Chris Policinski, President & CEO of Land O’Lakes Inc. and published by The Chicago Council on Global Affairs here.
Young people between the ages of 10 and 24 are nearly a quarter of the world’s population today. In developing countries, however, this youth population can be much higher – 50 percent or more.
This global rise in young people – the youth bubble – presents both a problem and an opportunity. The problem? These young people need access to safe, nutritious food and they need to be ready and able to find productive work. The clear opportunity is to engage this generation to help grow, produce and distribute more food, in increasingly productive and sustainable ways. Their ingenuity and innovations can provide much-needed solutions to global food security.
So how can we help encourage and inspire today’s youth to consider joining the cause of feeding the world? We can provide the resources, tools and insights that prove agriculture is not only fulfilling work, but that it’s the greatest growth industry of our generation, offering both innovation and opportunity.
As a nearly 100-year-old farmer-owned cooperative, we at Land O’Lakes take our mission of feeding human progress seriously. Our farm-to-fork perspective gives us a unique view of not only the food and ag industry, but of the talent that is required to feed our growing world.
In the US, we recently opened the WinField United Innovation Center in River Falls, Wisconsin, which incubates new solutions and technologies for domestic farmers. Our partnership with Microsoft continuously looks at new ways technology can be used to feed the world. And we’re equipping students of all backgrounds to become more engaged with agriculture, nutrition and technology through our partnership with GENYOUth.
One aspect of Land O’Lakes to take particular note of is our work with the nonprofit, Land O’Lakes International Development. Through this partnership, we leverage our world-view and expertise to assist economically emerging communities across the globe and support innovative thinking as a means to solving the issue of global hunger. This innovation is transforming the future of farming here and abroad.
Take the story of a young man in Kenya named Victor Kipkorir. Victor started as an electronics engineer, but early in his career, he and his wife, Nicolette realized they wanted to farm tomatoes. His first season, their crop was ravaged by the Tuta absoluta moth. So, Victor the engineer, went online looking for a solution.
His search led to Kenya Biologics, Ltd., which provides farmers green, safe and cost-effective crop protection products. Kenya Biologics was among three companies whose proof-of-concept innovations won seed funding and technical assistance through the Feed the Future Kenya Innovation Engine (KIE). KIE was a five-year program, funded by the US Agency for International Development (USAID) and implemented by Land O’Lakes International Development.
Victor was one of 10 farmers to attend the initial training on the Tutrack innovation from Kenya Biologics, Ltd. in Kericho County. His next crop of tomatoes reached its full yield potential. This meant more income for Victor and his family and more food for his community.
By the end of the KIE project, 202,364 farmers and over 1,400 enterprises had used KIE-supported innovation products to improve their farming practices.
Victor’s story shows the diversity of talent that we need in our industry and the importance of continuous training and learning – especially among younger populations. Victor, even as a young farmer, now teaches best farming practices to other Kenyan farmers and had the opportunity to show his farm to Land O’Lakes Global Food Challenge students, college sophomores from the U.S., bridging knowledge between U.S. youth and African youth.
“Both Victor and farmers [we met] in Kansas have so much passion for what they do, whether it’s for their animals or the food they’re growing or for the community,” says Katie Enzenauer, Global Food Challenge Emerging Leader. “It’s not going to be one solution to feeding the world. Every area in every country and every farm is going to need something different.”
We’ve all heard the statistic: by 2050, our global population will approach almost 10 billion people. The key to solving our food security issues is to work together, learn from each other and find ways to continuously innovate.
Through development work and bringing insights and innovation to agriculture, we can ensure that countries don’t just survive, they become self-sufficient and economically stable. They become U.S. trading partners and they join the development community – as donors.
As Victor says: “Everyone in the world has to eat three meals a day. That means people have to farm.”
That means we don’t just have to farm, we need to farm in more ambitious, insightful and innovative ways, and we need to start today.