L'Emploi rural décent

WHYFarm at the ECOSOC Youth Forum: Growing food security superheroes


Alpha is the beginning of the Greek alphabet. It is also the beginning of a new way to frame agriculture, changing the obsolete narrative sedimented around it. Definitely, Alpha is the beginning of this story, a story about a storyteller. Alpha Sennon is his full name. We met him for the first time last year, in Rome, during the IFAD's AgTalks. He was presenting his non-profit organization, called WHYFarm. Because, for Alpha, the "why" which lies behind the "how" needs to have the priority.

He was addressing the audience in his farmer coverall, since this young man from the twin-island Republic of Trinidad and Tobago is mainly a farmer. But also an entrepreneur, an instructor, an entertainer. To use his own words: "I am a farmer-preneur who wants to rebrand agriculture and make it attractive to the youth. I am a visionary, a performer who uses art - the highest form of communication - to involve people in agriculture. I devote my life to this purpose as agriculture concern all of us – we all need to eat, after all".

Following the AgTalks experience, we invited Alpha to the 2017 ECOSOC Youth Forum, as we felt that his voice had to be heard on global fora. Alpha effectively brought on the international stage the reality and perspectives of Caribbean rural youth. After the Youth Forum's Thematic Breakout Session on SDG2, where he shared his experience with other youth representatives and UN Member States, we took some time for a chat with him.

Alpha, the youth unemployment rate is growing in your region, the Caribbean. In your opinion, what role can agriculture play to address this challenge?

So far, agriculture has been framed in a one-dimension way. This is a mistake. We need to go beyond the stereotype of the old farmer with muddy gumboots. The agricultural sector needs and can accommodate a wide set of skills, we don't have to address only people already working in the sector. We should expand our audience. For instance, the mechanic market in the Caribbean is flooded. But we need mechanics and plumbers in the fields. We can use their knowledge to build hydroponic systems, for example.

We can tackle food security issues in different ways and from different angles. There is no need to reinvent the wheel, let's just make it spin. "Complementing, not reinventing" is our motto. This is why I have founded WHYFarm. We can be part of the solution. Our objective is to grow the future feeders of 2050. To do so, we need to switch from "agriculture" to "agricoolture".

What is the theory of change behind WHYFarm and how do you address youth's heterogeneous needs? 

WHYFarm stands for "We Help You-th" Farm. Our aim objective is promoting agriculture among children and youth by increasing their awareness on the world food problem. The earlier we intervene, the better. We work to give young women and men a better understanding of WHY food security and agriculture are important. I have travelled a lot during my studies and I have realized that educational programmes focus on the "how", but the "why" is missing. So I have asked myself: What am I going to change things?

At WHYFarm we explain the "why", as this is the only way to really engage people. By doing so, we try to replace the negative image associated with agriculture among youth with the perception of a sector that is composite, stimulating and profitable. Ultimately, we help people shape up their ideas. And we try to do it by developing creative ways to tell the story about agriculture.

This is what we call AgriEduTainment and this is how, in 2015, we came up with the idea of AGRIman, the superhero who feeds the world. It was a big success. Today we have a live AGRIman that goes around schools talking about food security. The character is instrumental, not just a mask. It is something tangible. We have also developed comic books and animation series on the superhero and we are now scaling-up.

Sure enough, social innovators should have scaling up at the top of their mind. WHYFarm is already active in different countries. What is your scaling strategy?

Other countries saw AGRIman as a catalyst, we have been able to scale up quickly and to launch it in Haiti, Rwanda and Zambia. We made a call about WHYFarm Ambassadors and we built country teams. In particular, in Zambia we work with YPARD. In Haiti we are currently translating our AGRIman comic books in French. In general, we are also planning to convey our message also through theatre productions, music, poetry and spoken word.

Making agriculture attractive is pivotal, but youth encounter also structural barriers when trying to enter the sector - such as access to knowledge, land and financial services. How does WHYFarm deal with this?

Land, capital, finance, knowledge: I look at everything from a very realistic level. Where there is an obstacle, there is also an opportunity. To turn youth challenges into opportunities, we have launched the Cyber Farm Collective Movement (CFCM). CFCM brings together young people with like-minded agri-ideas to share resources and results of their agricultural activities and, in most cases, to collectively start up some activity.

The objective is to expose CFCM members to the farm production dynamics and provide them with financial and marketing skills, under the guidance of successful commercial farmers and agricultural experts drawn from the academic and private sectors.

How do you find the ECOSOC Youth Forum experience and what kind of support would you expect from FAO and the UN in the future?

Thanks to the Youth Forum I have met and exchanged ideas with many brilliant young entrepreneurs from all over the world. Moreover, it definitely allowes us to get some resources for the work that we are doing. My vision is to make AGRIMan a global ambassador: we need to globalize, but we have limited resources. We expect that the UN support us - that they work with us, not for us. Collaboration is the key. For example, we would be glad if FAO could help us tell the story.

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