WHYFARM – Shifting the Agricultural Focus to Youth
Youth continue to prove that they have a right to have a seat at the table when discussing the build back better blueprint for our region. Their strategic thinking and ultimate desire to collaborate for effective and sustainable change is what is needed to build back and achieve the 2030 sustainable development goals.
At the beginning of COVID, the issue of food security shook our region; our dependency on others for food was glaring. However, the predicament shed light on existing commendable and innovative regional initiatives that address this issue. One of these initiatives is WHYFARM – (We Help You-th Farm), a not-for-profit organization based in Trinidad and Tobago focused on promoting the importance of sustainable agriculture among youth and children. WHYFARM was founded by Alpha Sennon, a young, millennial agripreneur.
Our Advocacy Officer and youth advocate, Danielle Walwyn, had a very inspiring conversation with Mr. Sennon about nutrition, food security and the role of youth in ‘agripreneurship’.
In discussing youth engagement, agriculture and building back, Alpha said the agricultural sector region-wide needs to “refocus” by prioritizing youth engagement. He reiterated that any long-term agricultural programs without the involvement of youth would not be sustainable and that meaningful youth engagement in all agriculture-focused conversations are critical. This level of engagement creates a sense of ownership by youth and allows policymakers an opportunity to understand the issues and potential solutions that this generation of farmers may experience and offer. In addition to creating spaces for youth to be involved in decision-making, he emphasized the need to support (financial and otherwise) youth-focused agricultural programs and prioritize agri-education, especially within secondary schools.
Alpha also reiterated the need to create an enabling environment for agripreneurs, which includes removing existing trade barriers within the region. He recalled a personal experience where he had numerous challenges trying to purchase animals/produce from other islands; he stated that these challenges can serve as a major barrier for agripreneurs especially those who are young and new. An environment, conducive to growing and trading produce freely within the region is needed for sustainability.
WHYFARM has provided numerous capacity building opportunities for youth within the agricultural sector. In 2019, WHYFARM hosted its first Agripreneur Mastermind Program Summit in Trinidad & Tobago in partnership with Regency Trinidad and Tobago. The summit featured progressive youth focused on strengthening the agri-value chain and the economy; 15 young agripreneurs were trained and given the tools to grow their business. This venture was funded by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. The next summit will be in 2021.
Alpha is also excited about a recent project – Farmers Collective – an initiative that brings together farmers across Trinidad and Tobago. Farmers within the collective help one another to reap and grow one another’s crops. They exchange labour, ideas, wisdom and motivation; the farmers then market their products and share the profits. This collaboration is the perfect example of what is needed for a sustainable future.
The organisation has also been involved in contributing to policy development. Alpha referred to their most recent collaboration with the Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) in strengthening digital agriculture in Trinidad and Tobago. WHYFARM’s role was to conduct research in within the agriculture community and inform a policy framework that would create an enabling environment for digital agriculture to be adopted easily in Trinidad and Tobago with special provisions for youth.
Ultimately, strengthening the agricultural sector requires a multisectoral approach and everyone has their role to play – policymakers, NGOs, education, trade sectors and the youth themselves. Alpha states “everyone may not become a farmer, but they must know – why (one should) farm”. He implores all to recognize the value of this sector and the critical role of youth, especially as we collaborate to “build back better”, together.
The Healthy Caribbean Coalition commends Alpha and the work of WHYFARM for their continued work in shaping a generation of agripreneurs, making healthy foods accessible and addressing regional food insecurity.