Do you know that feeling of fulfilment when you have done something right, something that had impact and brought joy in the hearts of people? Well, that is exactly how we felt after the ”Youth participating by a hectarewebinar.

Ever since our summer activities were postponed and meeting our friends from abroad in person turned into an intention scheduled for ”whenever it will be possible again”, we started toying with the idea of doing something that would still bring us a piece of the excitement and satisfaction our traditional summer seminar did.

Our international webinar ”Youth participating by a hectare” managed to achieve all that and more. Scheduled on the 22nd July, when we had planned to be in France, visiting several local farms and agricultural initiatives, the webinar gathered young people and experts on agriculture who discussed the challenges young people face when it comes to getting involved in this field.

”No race can prosper till it learns there is as much dignity in tilling a field as in writing a poem

Booker T. Washington

Although it was not initially included as an activity, the international webinar became part of our annual work plan “Rock, Paper, Participation“. The work plan focuses on seeing-judging-acting on how young people get involved in the dialogue on agricultural policies and on how they take part to sustainable agricultural practices.

The Rock, paper, participation” annual work plan is co-funded by the European Youth Foundation of the Council of Europe and the European Union.

The webinar gathered more than 60 participants out of the 91 who registered for it. They were all young people from one of the member organisations of MIJARC Europe, representing 8 European countries.

The 3,5 hour agenda was intense but time just flew by once the experts started talking about education and knowledge in the agricultural field, green jobs, agricultural policies and shared their personal stories of getting involved in the field.

Personal story always say something individual and different. They inspires us and give us motivation. If someone made it possible, we can also make it real.

pARTICIPANT TO THE WEBINAR

The webinar looked at agriculture from three perspectives: access to knowledge, information, and education, access to green jobs and engagement in agricultural policies. A study carried out by MIJARC World, FAO and IFA in 2011 revealed several challenges young people faced in the agricultural field and provided solutions for them. Almost ten years later, we wanted to analyse some of the challenges listed in the study, which are relevant for young people in Europe today, and look at them to see if they are still the same or what progress has been made so far.

The webinar was split in four session: an introductory session, two rounds of discussion groups and a common session to draw the conclusions.

Session 1: Access to knowledge, information, and education & access to green jobs

The session began with asking the participants where they learnt about food and agriculture related issues and the poll revealed that most of then had learnt about these by means of their own research.

The first guest speaker was Russ Carrington, a former chairman of Rural Youth Europe, who is currently a farmer practicing regenerative agriculture in the United Kingdom. He joined the call directly from his farm and made a presentation about his life journey. He spoke about why he decided to go back to full-time farming like his parents, after having left to study Civil Engineering to follow a different career. During the Q&A Russ received many questions from the participants. The questions were about whether agriculture and farming is presented in schools as a viable option; about his opinion on the current and future situation of agriculture; about whether he could use his Civil Engineering knowledge in farming; and also about technical issues such as what is meant by sustainable agriculture and what is the role of GMO.

The second guest speaker was Doris Letina, the vice president from CEJA Young Farmers, who is a farmer cultivating apples in Slovenia. She firstly asked the participants to describe ”Green Jobs” in one word using the Mentimeter application.

Some participants were then asked to elaborate on their chosen word, such as “conservation”, “responsibility” and “ethical”. Doris went on to giving a small presentation of what is understood as Green Jobs. Having received some inputs, the participants were then asked the questions: “What are we missing to have Green Jobs?”. This generated some interesting discussions and opinions such as the importance of public awareness, funding and change of societal values. Some participants came back to the importance of access to education, connecting to what was discussed in the first part of the session.

Session 2: Access and engagement of young people in policy dialogue

The session started by defining what is a policy dialogue by asking the participants to choose one picture out of four.

The choice of picture was partly different in the two sessions, but most of the participants chose pictures with young people working together at a table or discussion together. The session had two guest speakers: Jannes Maes, president of CEJA and Daniela Ordowski, board member of MIJARC Europe. Both of them underlined that engagement in policy dialogue is a process. The first step of it is to get organized with other people and define together what is the position shared by everyone and to agree on one message to communicate.

Further, the participants were asked if they had ever taken part in a policy dialogue and to share their experience about it, especially the issues and challenges they had. Some of the participants mentioned that they had never taken part in any dialogue on policies. They had the opinion that if young people do not search actively for such opportunities, they will not have the chance to take part in them. Others said that being in that session was already a step towards being active in policy dialogue. Jannes agreed that sometimes you have to ask for a place and this is not easy, but in general youth are then welcomed, because stakeholders and politicians know that they need the opinion of young people. For established organisations like CEJA or MIJARC Europe it is easier to be involved as an organisation than it is to join the dialogue as an individual. Youth organisations are crucial for the representation of young people.

Conclusions

During the final session, the participants reflected on the discussions they had in the discussion groups and a summary of the main points was made.

Finally a list of priorities identified during the webinar was made and the participants ranked them. The lack of education or its availability only in urban areas was the challenge most of young placed at the top, closely followed by the fact that youth in environmental protection is not a priority for governments these days and the fact the rural areas and farming are not given enough prominence in policies, media and on social networks.

The priorities identified by the participants during the webinar will be collected together with those identified during the local visits in each country and will serve as the basis for the upcoming international activities. During the next phase of the work plan, the participants will develop concrete action plans to address the priorities. The action plans will be the main working tool for the third activity, when participants will create project proposals to help with the implementation of at least one measure included in the action plans.

The webinar was a very successful activity judging by the results of the evaluation form and the testimonials given by the participants.

This webinar was very useful. Before this I didn’t even know that people like you are actually trying to solve problems like this one, the involvement of young people into agriculture and the development of rural spaces. The most useful thing that I have learnt is that with topics like this, there is still hope from the younger generations and I think that I have actually found some inspiration to speak out on what I want to say something, because until now I was too shy and I didn’t think that people really want to hear what someone like me would want to say.

Participant

On a personal level, I could relate my own education and life with the experiences that one of the speakers talked about. He inspired me to use most of the engineering and problem-solving capabilities to get involved in sustainable agriculture.

Participant

On 4th June 2020, our member organisation APSD-Agenda 21 from Romania organised the third local visit planned among the activities of MIJARC Europe’s annual work plan “Rock, Paper, Participation“. The work plan focuses on seeing-judging-acting on how young people get involved in the dialogue on agricultural policies and on how they take part to sustainable agricultural practices.

The Rock, paper, participation” annual work plan is co-funded by the European Youth Foundation of the Council of Europe and the European Union.

Following the introduction of the lockdown measures of the COVID-19 pandemic across almost all European countries, several of MIJARC Europe’s member organisations decided to organise the local visits as national webinars. The team of MIJARC Europe designed a webinar format based on online tools and assisted the member organisation in implementing their activities online in line with the objective of the work plan. APSD-Agenda 21 was the first member organisation that hosted a national webinar instead of a local visit to a farm, but the event was useful, effective and well received by the participants.

Organising the event online as a webinar gave the advantage of having more than 12 participants and making it a national rather than a local event. APSD-Agenda 21 spread the call in its national network and finally 66 participants from five counties in Romania attended the webinar.

The webinar was led on Zoom and included a balanced mix of theoretical input and practical exercises that made the activity dynamic and interesting for the participants. First, they got the chance to know each other better through a set of four questions that invited them raise there hand if during the lockdown period that had:

  • taken part to a challenge on social media
  • listened to a podcast
  • baked something for the first time
  • attended online meetings while still wearing their pyjamas

The next block on the agenda was dedicated to agriculture and aimed at bringing the young participants closer to agricultural practices and to understanding how agriculture is done in their country and in Europe. Based on the study on youth involvement in agriculture that MIJARC Europe published specially for this visit, the participants found out that:

  • 56% of the EU citizens live in rural areas;
  • there are almost 12 million farmers in the EU, with only 29% of the farmer owners being women and only 5% being young than 35 years old;
  • Romania is the largest producer of sunflower in the EU;
  • 33% of Romania’s active population work in the agricultural sector.

After the general introduction to the topic of agriculture, the participants had the chance to discuss with one of the leading experts on agriculture in Romania, Mr. Vînătoru Costel – head of the plant gene bank in Buzau and horticulture engineer at the Plant Research and Development Station in Buzau-Romania. The discussion focused on practices used in sustainable agriculture, the phases a product goes through from the moment it is just a seed to the moment we can consume it, several projects of the research station, the expert personal motivation to study agricultural and work in the field, the Common Agricultural policy and who implements it in Romania, ways to involve young people in agriculture and the main problems farmers face in Romania.

The second part of the meeting focused on youth involvement in policies and especially in agricultural policies. While the participants had some idea about what a policy is, almost none of them had ever been involved in a structured dialogue process ir was aware of how young people could influence a policy.

Next, the participants explored the Common Agricultural Policy and the way it is implemented in Romania and were introduced to the Revised European Charter on the Participation of Young People in Local and Regional Life (the Charter) They went through the six-step implementation model, the principles of the Charter, the ladder of participation and the RMSOS approach and were very pleased to see that there was an instrument that could guide them towards getting involved in policies at local and regional level.

Revised Charter

The evaluation session revealed the fact that the participants found the webinar very useful and interesting and discovered a multitude of tools they could use to get involved.

On 14th March 2020, our member organisation Umbrella from Georgia organised the second local visit planned among the activities of MIJARC Europe’s annual work plan “Rock, Paper, Participation“. The work plan focuses on seeing-judging-acting on how young people get involved in the dialogue on agricultural policies and on how they take part to sustainable agricultural practices.

The Rock, paper, participation” annual work plan is co-funded by the European Youth Foundation of the Council of Europe and the European Union.

Umbrella gathered 13 of their young members and took them on a visit to Asureti Village and to Tetritskaro Youth Center. Firstly, they visited a farm and a greenhouses that belonged to the young farmer Gocha Apciauri, located in Asureti village. He presented his farm, the technologies he used and engaged he participants in an experiential learning activity inviting them to harvest vegetables. The discussion with the farmers focused on the challenges that he faced in his daily live as a farmer and the agricultural works.

The second half of the day was spent at Tetritskaro Youth Center, where the participants explored the “ladder of Participation”, the “triangle of cooperation”, worked in groups and used non-formal learning methods to identify challenges/barriers young people face if they want to get involved in the dialogue on agricultural policies.

They based their work on the study on youth involvement in agriculture – the case of Georgia – published by MIJARC Europe especially for this visit and the Revised European Charter on the Participation of Young People in Local and Regional Life (the Charter)

Revised Charter

According to participants their involvement in agricultural policy at local level is extremely low. They were not aware of the possibilities and mechanisms of participation in decision-making process at local level. None of them had ever taken part in discussions on farming issue or had been invited to the local Sakrebulo (local legislative body) meetings. In addition to this, despite the fact that representatives of two local municipalities (Tetrsitskaro and Marneuli) were invited to the meeting, none of them sent representatives.

The young participants decided that the priorities they should focus on at local level should be:

  • Information – access to information is the top priority as quite often the information is on websites but it is not proactively published or spread in the municipality. It also considers the accessibility to internet as it is not developed in rural area.
  • Motivation – low level of motivation or nihilism among youth and non-responsive local authorities. The priority is to raise the level of motivation among young people.
  • Language barrier – in the communities with ethnic minorities (Armenians, Azerbaijanis) in some cases they face language barriers as they lack of knowledge of state language. Translation of information into native languages.
  • Political will – promoting (advocating) political will among local authorities and awareness about the positive sides of involvement of young farmers in agricultural policy development process.


On 7th March 2020, our member organisation Federation of Youth Clubs of Armenia (FYCA), organised the first local visit planned within the activities of MIJARC Europe’s annual work plan “Rock, Paper, Participation“. The work plan focuses on seeing-judging-acting on how young people get involved in the dialogue on agricultural policies and on how they take part to sustainable agricultural practices.

The Rock, paper, participation” annual work plan is co-funded by the European Youth Foundation of the Council of Europe and the European Union.

FYCA took the young participants to visit several agricultural farms in Nor Geghi (Kotayk province), Armenia.

The visits started with several meetings with local youth representatives and local & regional authorities. At first, the attendees discussed the current situation and existing challenges facing the youth in the region and explored the facts and issues raised by the study on youth involvement in agriculture done by MIJARC Europe.

Later, it was time to start the meetings with the farmers located in the region. The local visit to several agricultural farms in Armenia gathered 25 young volunteers and members from the organization, and also representatives from local and regional authorities from Kotayk province, Armenia.

Prior to the visit, the organization contacted the provincial administration representatives of Kotayk region through FYCA regional coordinator, Mari Hovakimyan. The visit was co-organized by the head of Nor Geghi community, Vardan Papyan and his administrative team.

The field visit started from “Green” intensive apple orchards, where farmers’ staff presented the basics of the fruit cultivation. The participants explored all the stages of producing apples: starting from the basic steps of orchard establishment and development to packing the ready-steady fruits for consumption. The apple orchards have been established in Nor Geghi community in 2016 and currently cover nearly 30 hectares, with the goal of expanding the area by 20 hectares in the nearest future. In addition to apple trees, pear, plum and cherry trees will also be planted there.

It is also interesting to know that the intensive orchards are harvested earlier than traditional orchards. In case of intensive orchards, up to ten times more seedlings are planted on 1 hectare of land. The farm grows a huge variety of apples and each of them is different in its own way.

Having explored the techniques and logistics of the production, it was time to carry out the second visit in the region. The next farm was a fishpond, belonging to “Ninel” LLC and providing employment opportunities to locals.

Afterwards, the team headed to the third well-known farm, “Lusakert” poultry factory. During the visit, the team got acquainted with the bird breeding conditions and technical equipment of the cultivation. As the factory staff informed, the chickens are kept in exclusively natural and ecological conditions, thus providing ecologically pure and nutritious products.

Revised Charter

The information gained during the visits were later on used to discuss about how young people could get involved in agricultural policies and firstly if they should get involved. The participants explored the Revised European Charter on the Participation of Young People in Local and Regional Life (the Charter) and its six step implementation model. The participants came to the conclusion that agricultural development is crucially important for developing rural areas. Hence, the strategies and policies promoting the development of rural areas are considered to be a high priority in the country.

In order to reach sustainable agricultural development, it is necessary to provide rural youth with sufficient access to knowledge and information, through incorporating agricultural skills in the education.
According to the discussions, it became obvious that youth’s involvement in policy dialogue is still an existing challenge in the country. Thus, young people need to have access to integrated trainings in agricultural sector and get coherent response from policy-makers and development practitioners so as to overcome those challenges.


Overall, the following conclusion was drawn in result of the local visit: agricultural development is an extremely important asset for fostering sustainable development of rural communities’ livelihood and increasing the standards of living in those areas.