Tuesday, 5 November 2013

Research must meet the needs of young people

ACIAR’s Principal Advisor Dr Simon Hearn recently attended a workshop in Pakistan on youth and agriculture. He says the key message centred on the need for agricultural research providing opportunities for youth...

Many developing countries have a large number of rural youth looking to improve their lives. To capitalise on this, agricultural research needs to have practical applications and provide opportunities for young people.

Meeting the challenges of engaging youth in agriculture and related industries, to produce future regional food needs, is a high priority of the Asia-Pacific Association of Agricultural Research Institutions (APAARI).

At the latest meeting of APAARI in Islamabad, Pakistan, a two-day regional workshop* on ‘youth and agriculture: challenges & opportunities’ was organised by the Pakistan Agricultural Research Council.

Engaging youth
A common theme among the workshop's delegates (which included scientists and government representatives from 24 countries and UN officials) was that young people are losing interest in agriculture. This is happening at both farm level and research level, and in some countries is worsened by the apparent low social status of farmers. 

At the meeting, the Pakistani Federal Minister for Planning and Development, Ahsan Iqbal, said that Pakistan has one of the largest youth bulges, with 35% of the population aged under 16 and 60% under 36, of which 70% live in rural areas. 

Mr Ahsan described youth in Pakistan as a demographic dividend with great potential. ‘This demographic bulge is a great opportunity for the country to lead towards sustainable growth.’ However, he warned that ‘if opportunities are not provided to tap the youth potential, this dividend may prove to be a curse for the country’.

‘The youth of rural areas must be provided opportunities through rural enterprises to boost the agriculture sector’, Minister Ahsan said. ‘Through such enterprises, the youth would not only be able to earn a living for themselves, but could generate employment opportunities for other youth of their areas’, he added.

Advancing applied technology
Minister Ahsan also highlighted the need in Pakistan to promote applied research with practical application in various sectors of the economy, including agriculture. 

‘Our research must be applied, with strong links to the development goals of the country’, he said. ‘Researchers must not only focus on publishing research papers; rather they must conduct research that has practical application for the development of respective sectors of the economy.’

ACIAR is funding applied research to boost the performance of Pakistan's mango, citrus and dairy industries through the AU$12.95m Australia-Pakistan Agricultural Sector Linkages Program (ASLP).

Research partnership benefits
As APAARI’s Chair at the Islamabad meeting, I highlighted the need for regional research partnerships for the benefit of all. National research is important, but regional research partnerships can have a greater impact given major common challenges such as climate change and water management. Such research partnerships will help address the Asia-Pacific region's increasing food demand and boost its economies.

By Dr Simon Hearn, ACIAR’s Principal Advisor and APAARI Chair

More information

*The ‘Regional workshop on youth and agriculture: challenges & opportunities’ was supported by APAARI and the Global Forum on Agricultural Research (GFAR), International Center for Agricultural Research in the Dry Areas (ICARDA), International Crops Research Institute for the Semi-Arid-Tropics (ICRISAT), Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI), Biodiversity International, International Maize and Wheat Improvement Center (CIMMYT), and ACIAR.

Australia-Pakistan Agricultural Sector Linkages Program (ASLP)

Factsheet on ASLP mango research Improving market opportunities for mangoes in Pakistan

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