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North American Collaboration Takes on Building the Next Generation of Leaders in Agriculture

By Michelle Pelletier Marshall, Women in Agribusiness Media (August 22, 2023)

Established in 2010, the Global Forum for Rural Advisory Services (GFRAS) has been diligent in its efforts to contribute positively to farm families and rural producers by enhancing the performance of advisory services and agricultural extension worldwide. The goal is to empower farmers to facilitate a sustainable reduction of hunger and poverty. Made up of 17 sub-network organizations around the world, each year members gather for the GFRAS Annual Meeting, which for the first time will take place in North America, October 17-19, in Denver, Colorado.

This years’ international forum of experts and professionals, hosted by the North American Agricultural Advisory Network (NAAAN), the 17th network to join GFRAS, gathers to discuss “Building the Next Generation of Leaders in Agriculture” within the extension, agricultural education, and rural advisory services context. Amid topics such as youth engagement, secondary and post-secondary education, and serving the underserved, attendees will actively engage on how to attract and prepare the next generation of leaders in agriculture and improve global food security.

NAAAN is guided by a 10-member steering committee made up of leaders from Canada, Mexico, and the U.S., and includes the ministers or secretaries of agriculture from each country. The NAAAN secretariat is hosted by the Colorado State University System. Kerri Conway, special advisor to the chancellor and director of international agriculture, Spur Campus, for the Colorado State University System, heads up the Secretariat and this annual meeting.

WIA Today spoke to Conway to get more details.

1). How does the work of the NAAAN add value to the global work of GFRAS?

GFRAS is relatively new as an international NGO and the NAAAN is the newest network to join. We provide a space for advocacy and leadership by a variety of stakeholders on pluralistic, demand-driven rural advisory services within the global development agenda. Formed in 2020, the NAAAN is delivering on the value of agricultural extension from North America.

Put in place by President Lincoln in 1862 during the Civil War, the United States has the good fortune of the public land grant system. This means that, through local universities and colleges, farmers, producers, and the general population across every country in the U.S. are supported by a team of extension and rural advisory services experts. In Canada and Mexico extension services are predominantly offered through a public provincial led system and combination of NGO, governmental support, and the private sector, respectively.

The NAAAN works to gain a better understanding of each county’s agricultural systems and how to interact as a full continent, as North America, and broaden the agricultural opportunities. Our goal and mission is to work collaboratively while finding our place in the global conversation in providing agricultural solutions, and learning from our partners around the world through the 16 other GFRAS networks.

2). Focusing on the next generation of farm leaders is key, seeing that the average age of farmers in the U.S. is 57.5 years old (and globally around 60 years old). What specific topics and discussions are fundamental in your educational efforts for this meeting?

This meeting in Denver focuses on the theme of “Building the Next Generation of Leaders in Agriculture” and covers four topics where we ask ourselves how do we build the next generation of leaders in agriculture and what’s our role? We’re exploring how we engage young people in agriculture as: 1) elementary school aged children; 2) as high schoolers and students; 3) as working adults; and 4) all while reflecting and considering the variety of life experiences and backgrounds from which they come.

We’re following along with statistics that demonstrate getting kids involved in the early years, well before they get to college and begin to pick their careers, is critical in their understanding of agriculture, STEM, and long-term career choices. We will be exploring, with a focus on youth and 4-H programs internationally, where and how we are collaborating to provide educational ag opportunities for young students. In secondary and post-secondary education, we are working to get ag and STEM curriculum into the forefront of secondary and post-secondary learning opportunities worldwide.

NAAAN Steering Committee, May 2023

Young professionals, those in the early phases of their careers, often between 18 to 35 years old, often require additional support. We are coordinating mentorships, internships, and providing options to get involved in agriculture and agribusiness projects in the hopes that they find their place there. We are also looking for partners in North America to help us achieve these goals.

Lastly is the area of serving the underserved and the underrepresented in our agricultural communities. With collaboration from partner organizations, this addresses how we are reaching those who historically have a lack of resources and access to extension services and opportunities in agriculture. Across Canada, Mexico, and the United States, as well as the world, this can look very different. In the United States, two organizations we are partnering with include Minorities in Agriculture, Natural Resources and Related Sciences (MANRRS) and the First Americans Land Grant Consortium (FALCON).

3). The Women in Agribusiness Summit has been diligent in welcoming the next generation at its conferences through its annual Student Scholarship program. Do you foresee more opportunities like this being needed? What other initiatives might provide the impetus for more involvement in ag from younger generations?

I think that speaks to where we're going with early career access and helping younger generations imagine themselves in leadership roles – this is what we want to foster. We have some dynamic, young speakers from around the world who will be attending the meeting.

We also will feature the Young Professionals for Agricultural Development (YPARD) whose mission is to enable and empower agricultural leaders shaping sustainable food systems.

Additionally, the NAAAN will be launching Country Hubs later this year across Canada, Mexico, and the United States. Through these hubs we hope to connect practitioners of all ages. In addition to the focus area of “Building the Next Generation of Leaders”, we will be addressing the other two thematic areas of the NAAAN including Biodefense and Management of Natural Disasters, and Improving Soil Health and Water Management.

4). What programs are provided at Colorado State University (CSU) to assist in these goals?

Colorado State University has established a new CSU Spur campus that is focused on grades K through 12 learning in food, water, and health. Part of our desire in establishing this campus in Denver is to explore the big issues facing our planet and encourage the youngest of our communities to see themselves as having a role in being a part of the solutions, particularly around global food security. The Spur campus hopes to create a greater understanding of the different careers and opportunities available to students and their families in food, water, and health through hands-on learning experiences. In many ways it’s like a museum as students problem solve by “operating” on stuffed animals in our mock veterinary clinic, exploring how their food reaches their plate, or manipulating an interactive diorama to understand how water shapes our land.

All these learning activities combine to assist us in the ultimate goal we share with GRFAS to shine a light on agriculture and encourage new ideas, new people, and new technologies to move us forward in a positive way on this very important world endeavor.

In closing, we hope to see you in Denver for the GFRAS Annual Meeting as we continue to explore what Building the Next Generation of Leaders in Agriculture looks like through a variety of keynotes, panels, tours of local area farms and food operations, a visit to the Spur campus, and the opportunity to engage and learn from global leaders. Registration closes on September 16th. As we also work to launch our NAAAN Country Hubs on the last day of the meeting, having the right partners in the room will be essential in formulating next steps. It is an exciting time for regional collaborations in agriculture as we create better and stronger pathways for our global food security.

Look here more information and to register.


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