FAO Liaison Office with the Russian Federation

Future food systems: vision of the young

Photo: ©FAO/Vladimir Mikheev
16/07/2021

 

The FAO Liaison Office with the Russian Federation held a webinar “Youth vision on future consumer trends and food systems” in the form of an independent dialogue in preparation for the UN Food Systems Summit 2021.

The topics of the speeches embraced challenges and opportunities for the transformation of food systems, including the use of “big data” and blockchain technologies; a sociological portrait of a young consumer; educational training of future agri-food tech specialists; prospects for food developers of the future, etc. Invited experts, students and farmers highlighted the importance of supporting traditional and innovative agricultural systems.

“There are 1.2 billion people in the age brackets between 15 to 24 in the world, and these young people make up 16 percent of the total population of the planet. Today, young people actively participate in ensuring sustainable development and play an important role in establishing sustainable, inclusive and stable societies,” said moderator Ms Katerina Antonevich, liaison officer at the FAO Office in Moscow, in her opening remarks.

“Unfortunately, young people in the modern world face serious challenges. These include, for example, unemployment, with its level three times higher among young people than among the middle-aged, decrease in the quality of jobs offered to young people, and a rise in inequality… All these challenges are also present in the sphere of agriculture.”

Addressing the audience, Ms Antonevich underscored the importance of attracting young people to academic science and the need to teach them research skills for the sake of high-quality research that allows “identifying what we really lack, what the consumer of the future wants, and what the industry itself needs.”

 “The FAO Office in Moscow is holding an event dedicated to the World Youth Skills Day for the first time, and we hope that this will become a good tradition from now on. Today’s webinar is held in the form of a “Dialogue” in anticipation of the UN Food Systems Summit 2021 so that the voice of young people could be and should be heard. All the materials of our webinar will be sent to the organizers of the UN Summit,” emphasized Mr Aghasi Harutyunyan, Deputy Director of the FAO Liaison Office with the Russian Federation. “Among other things, we see our task in clearly demonstrating that everyone who is engaged in the agri-food sector has a great future,” he concluded.

Globally, the agri-food sector has assumed the rope of the largest employer. “Almost one billion people work directly in this industry, and if we include their households, there are as much as two billion people,” said Mr Oleg Kobiakov, Director of the FAO Liaison Office with the Russian Federation. “In developing countries, their share is approaching 80 percent,” he added.

Taking into account the transition of the agricultural sector to an innovative path of development and mounting attention to the social aspects of life in rural areas, the system and hierarchy of values are changing. “If we look at what is happening in the more advanced countries of the world, we will find a rapid introduction of sophisticated technologies and a growing demand for professionals in industrial agriculture. It makes agriculture and related industries more attractive, providing their employees with a high level of income,” stressed Mr Kobiakov. This trend is important in terms of career guidance and employment of young people.

Young people in Russia begin to change their eating habits in three cases: to maintain athletic shape (40 percent); in accordance with doctor’s recommendations (21 percent) and in tune with personal beliefs (14 percent). Such conclusions were made on the basis of an opinion research of residents of mega-cities with millions of inhabitants, as well as small towns and rural settlements. Mr Aleksey Gorkov, student of the School of National Economy of RANEPA, presented these findings in the report “How modern youth sees the food system of the future”.

The research noted a growing trend towards eating out. “In general, junk food is constantly present in the life of 44 percent of respondents,” Mr Gorkov said. The place of growing up and the level of income determine the key role in the formation of eating behavior.

The survey showed that the main criterion of young people’s approach to judging food is how it tastes (68 percent). At the same time, the higher the income, the more attention is paid to the study of the composition and nutritional value of the product.

In general, the majority neglects the manifestations of social responsibility of any food manufacturing company and the geographical location of production. The survey also showed that most young people throw away an average of up to 5 percent of food, but with an increase in income and with frequent eating out, this share increases by a factor of 4 to 5. 

The analysis of the respondents’ answers shows that the diet of young people is mainly predetermined by taste preferences, which reflect the culture of consumption (traditions and habits), and the price that regulates the availability of certain products. As for the “food of the future”, it has not yet become part of everyday life: 12 percent of young people regularly eat plant-based meat, and 6.8 percent have added plant-based meat to their diet, but most are not yet ready to change their eating habits.

At the same time, more than half of the respondents monitor “various parameters of food, among which the most popular are the number of calories, the proportion of salt and sugar,” with its core motivation being either dieting or sports, said Mr Gorkov. 

Ms Oksana Mylnikova, graduate student of the Moscow State Institute of International Relations (MGIMO University), presented the results of the research on ‘’Market of agricultural innovations in Russia’’. As the speaker noted, ‘’Russia is focusing on the introduction and the use of digitalized agricultural equipment, sensors, unmanned aerial vehicles and other technological equipment that can help achieve enhanced effectiveness of each operation in agriculture’’.

‘’In Russia, both well-known technologies, such as selection and hybrid breeding, and innovations such as smart irrigation, are widely used,” continued the speaker. She presented other examples such as the introduction of a direct supply chain, precision farming, direct accounting systems, full automation of agricultural processes, and the use of cloud technologies. In conclusion, Ms Mylnikova noted the lack of qualified personnel in the field of implementation and the use of digital technologies in the agricultural sector.

Mr Andrey ZuzinDirector of EFKO Innovations, explained why working in the agricultural sector is ‘’promising, interesting and profitable.” The expert noted, ‘’it is very important that people associate agriculture not only with grazing cows and other animals, and not only with fertilizers and combines, but also with something bigger.’’ According to the expert, ‘’agriculture and food production in general is an industry that gives people, first of all, a very high chance of self-realization in the areas related to climate, fighting hunger, protecting the environment, healthcare and many other areas.”

In his opinion, “all large companies do not do enough in the field of marketing, thinking light-mindedly about how to convey to the consumer, including the youth, a message that would interest them.” The agro-industrial complex desperately needs people who can create modern technology, and those who can handle new products and new equipment. “Bioengineers, biotechnologists, people who work with strains of microorganisms and those who are responsible for product safety are essential professions. Their representatives are sorely lacking today, especially in our country.” 

“At present, food and agricultural production has become so high-tech that we are more likely to see the outflow of motivated specialists from the fields of robotics and IT to agriculture, than vice versa. Because agriculture will completely change its appearance, people who are used to associating it with the old clichés will regret not choosing a career in agriculture.”

Ms Lyubov LyubaevaDeputy Director of the Center for the Development of Financial Technologies of the Russian Agricultural Bank, spoke about the free system developed by the Bank aimed to become a “center of attraction” for everyone interested in agricultural technologies. The project is primarily targetting small businesses and individual farmers. “Agricultural holdings are now undergoing large-scale implementation, piloting, testing, and technology development,” since they have time, personnel and financial resources, while “small farmers, of course, do not have such opportunities and funds,” the expert emphasized.

“We are conducting educational training, holding “Agro-Life” conversations, such as this one, with representatives of scientific centers on the basis of the Ministry of Education and Science; we talk about new achievements in plant breeding, in soil cultivation technology, and growing various crops. Our farmers can listen to scientists, from whose books they were learningthe trade, all for free,” detailed Ms Lyubayeva. Rosselkhozbank also participates in “a program to increase the attractiveness of rural life”, organizes internships, helps young professionals to build a career in the agricultural sector, and holds hackathons and student start-up contests.

Mr Nikita Rossova cheese maker from the Irkutsk region, SDG-2 youth envoy in Russia, spoke about what it means to be a young farmer in Russia, what challenges he personally faced and what opportunities opened up for him. The owner of a European-style cheese dairy farm, created in the Siberian outback, spoke about the prospects for earning money and developing small business in a village, stressing that, in his opinion, “the issue is not so much about education, but about financing.”

“Small and even medium-sized businesses know about many advanced technologies, but cannot afford them,” the young entrepreneur-devotee explained the essence of the problem. “The Ministry of Agriculture can support those firms financially, but it covers a maximum of 59 percent of the costs,… and if the equipment breaks down, it is difficult to get the help of technical specialists, especially when you are in distant regions of the country.”

“In terms of business, you can survive if you are on a tourist track. Businesses survive by providing raw materials at low cost to larger producers. Gourmet trips offer great prospects; we have almost established partnerships with tourist centers and launched a ‘weekend farm’ initiative. The COVID epidemic has entailed difficulties but we hope to recover with time”, Mr Rossov optimistically concluded. 

Mr Kirill Kosygin, indigenous peoples activist, Koriak Okrug (Kamchatka), spoke of the importance of traditional economic activities for educating younger generations. He explained the way whaling, permitted in Chukotka, provides the local youth with livelihoods and with an opportunity to become part of their people’s culture, including through the language.

Mr Kirill Kosygin gave additional insights on reindeer breeding, one of the oldest types of economic activity among northern peoples. Reindeer breeding ensures the consumption of “fresh food”, which “excludes allergies for various food additives and for imported food”, at the same time “promoting youth’s engagement in the activity, which helps them prepare for autonomous life” not only in traditional communities but also in an unknown environment.

Mr Kosygin highlighted the culture-forming factor of reindeer breeding: although the Koriak language is disappearing, “all Koriak-speaking people nowadays are former reindeer-breeders.” Besides, reindeer breeding gives the youth an opportunity to develop useful food habits and a healthy biorhythm, form a humane attitude to nature, protect and strengthen their mental well-being. 

“It is the succession, the connection between the older and the younger generations that traditional economic activities, such as the Koriak reindeer-breeding, are essential for,” Mr Kirill Kosygin concluded. “If we break these ties, we will actually lose one more opportunity to bring up a physically and morally healthy young generation.”

Ms Katerina Antonevich, moderator of the webinar, noted that “FAO is working intensively with indigenous peoples; this year was marked by the first Tough Indigenous Forum, a very important event, significant for food systems sustainability in general…” “We need to try and preserve what we have and ensure that our youth is interested in conserving bedrock living principles, traditions, and customs,” the expert emphasized.

Mr Aleksey Naliukhin, Deputy Director for Science, Pryanishnikov Institute for Agrochemistry, said that there were “many young people in our country who would like to realize their potential in science“, and the state was “providing grants and many other forms of assistance not only attract youth to science but also to make sure they stay in this field of activity“. The All-Russian Council of Young Scientists and Specialists unites all agrarian universities and colleges. There are 54 such institutions at the moment. Every university or college has its own Council of Young Scientists supervising major scientific research projects.

Ms Nina Logunova, Director, Institute for Food Systems and Health-Saving Technologies, Moscow State University of Food Production (MGUPP), delivered a presentation entitled “Creators of Future Food”. “We are not and will not be able to ignore the changes taking place in the food industry and agriculture,“ Ms Nina Logunova said. “There are many reasons — economical, technological, and, of course, environmental.”

Today, she noted, in order to be ready for the modern market environment, specialists must acquire three types of skills: hard skills (professional competencies, soft skills (universal competencies) and future skills (progressive competencies). “Future specialists will have to broaden their personal competencies and acquire new skills more often“, systemic and environmentally friendly mindset, programming and artificial intelligence knowledge included. 

MGUPP offers its students educational programmes that take into account the newest trends in the labour market. Listing the professions of the future, Ms Logunova spoke of nano-biologists, biocomputing specialists, living systems architects, agro-IT-specialists, recycling-technologists, green chemistry experts, as well as of many traditional professions that were being redefined today, getting a new life and further development. 

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When closing the forum that lasted two and a half hours and attracted over 70 experts, both theoreticians and practitioners, and teachers of future agrarians, Mr Oleg Kobiakov said that he was convinced that the results of the multi-stakeholder dialogue would be taken into account in the preparation to the UN Food Systems Summit. “Our meeting today has first and foremost inspired us to continue the conversation — and we are ready to do so“, the Director of the FAOLOR concluded.

You could watch the participants’ speeches of the webinar here.