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The Thrive for Change Awards on LinkedIn Live were the culmination of the 2021/22 Youth Ag Summit (YAS), a biennial program that upskills and empowers youths from around the globe who are passionate about feeding a hungry planet. This unique virtual edition of YAS was sponsored by the Crop Science division of Bayer, in partnership with the UN Sustainable Development Solutions Network and Babele.
Over a span of six months, YAS virtually connected 100 delegates from 45 different countries, ages 18-25, to learn from global thought leaders and exchange ideas for solving some of our planet’s most pressing challenges. The delegates were selected from more than 2,000 applicants based on their “Thrive for Change” project ideas – original solutions for improving food security and sustainability challenges in their own communities and beyond. Click here to view the two-day virtual Summit in November 2021, in which delegates heard directly from UN FAO Director-General QU Dongyu and 20+ additional speakers from 7 continents.
Beginning in January 2022, a 10-week virtual idea incubator called YAS University provided the delegates with further training and mentoring on how to prepare their Thrive for Change project plans for real-world implementation. Following the first round of a project pitch competition in March 2022, 12 finalists were nominated by their peers to pitch their ideas to an expert jury panel. Click here to view highlights of the finalists’ project pitches. All 12 finalists will receive a new laptop or tablet and a 1:1 coaching session with an ag innovation expert.
Three top winners, announced during the LinkedIn Live event, were each awarded a €5,000 bursary to help them further develop their projects. The Awards program also featured a stellar lineup of speakers, including Julie Borlaug and Mina Guli, who shared inspirational insights on how young people can help build a world with health for all and hunger for none. Click here to watch the event recording.
Meet the Winning Delegates
At the age when many college students devote their free time to having as much fun as possible, YAS delegate Bruno Ferreira and his friends decided to spend their time in a different way: in 2017, they founded the Food Bank of Bolivia, their country’s first food bank. “I am quite concerned about the future of our world and I’m interested in doing my part to transform the global food system,” Bruno explains, citing the fact that 12.6% of Bolivia’s population is undernourished, and the high prevalence of poverty in rural areas, which are largely comprised of farmers. “Since 2017, we have made great progress, even growing by 1600% from 2019-2020. This incredible growth was due to the COVID-19 pandemic, when our work was needed the most.” The Food Bank regularly serves 15,000 people, primarily vulnerable families and neighborhoods and children from foster homes and orphanages.
While building the food bank, along with a support network of suppliers and other NGOs, Bruno and his friends soon noticed other problems that needed solutions. While local farmers and merchants of fruits and vegetables give them their overripe produce to distribute to vulnerable populations (in exchange for waste management, compost, and insurance services), the Food Bank’s beneficiaries often lack proper means of refrigeration – so the food is still wasted before it can help people.
Thus, Bruno came to the Youth Ag Summit with the idea for a side project called Probá, an upcycling production plant that will process the Food Bank’s rescued fruits and vegetables into highly nutritious and non-perishable foods. Probá will sell these products to Food Bank beneficiaries at 10% of market value to cover costs, and any profits will be reinvested in social support, including training for local farmers.
Probá will help address UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) 2 (Zero Hunger), 3 (Good Health and Well-Being), 12 (Responsible Consumption and Production), and 13 (Climate Action). “We will be taking full advantage of the salvaged food to give it a second change, thereby reducing food waste and greenhouse gasses,” Bruno explains. “In 2020, we rescued 325 tons of food that would have been thrown away. With processing, we can improve that by 18%.” In addition, as Bruno and his team see it, helping children receive healthy nutrition helps break the hunger cycle and gives them opportunities in the future. “The 15,000 people we now reach have the opportunity to stop worrying so much about the food on their tables and can try to move on to a prosperous life.”
Chidinma Ezeh, from Nigeria, is a self-described global poverty fighter and “Agro and Climate advocate with a heart for rural development and inclusion.” She is also a soil and soilless veggie farmer, consultant, and trainer. “I am a passionate research and production agriculturist who is enthusiastic about social change and development,” says Chidinma. “I am dedicated to improving the state of agriculture in Africa through AI and technology that fosters better yields and profit. And I walk the talk in training farmers and youth on improved innovation to increase production in vegetable production and agribusiness.”
Chidinma believes that the inequality of farmers and farm workers, especially in Africa, emanates from a wide knowledge gap in production agriculture. She came to the Youth Ag Summit with a Thrive for Change project idea called farmCAS, a tech-enabled agricultural firm that will help solve this inequality to ensure improved farm productivity and better livelihoods for both farmers and farm workers.
“My Thrive for Change project, farmCAS, is set to equip farmers with the needed tools and capacity training in vegetable production,” Chidinma explains. This means educating the farmers and workers on techniques and innovations to adapt to the effects of climate change while improving their productivity and, invariably, their income and livelihood. Ensuring that farmers and workers have access to the latest technical and vocational skills will also help improve their standard of living.
Furthermore, farmCAS will help address ongoing farm labor issues in Nigeria by offering a digital platform to connect farm recruiters with job seekers, provide background checks, and protect the rights of farm workers through legal agreements. Chidinma’s surveys of area farmers have shown that more than half are willing to use a digital platform to access workers and are willing to pay more if those workers have been trained on the required tasks. “Skill, integrity and trust will go a long way toward solving the farmers’ and farm workers’ challenges,” she says. “If the workers are properly planned and trained, farmers are willing to pay to get the best help.” In all, farmCAS will help to address SDGs 1 (No Poverty), 2 (Zero Hunger), 4 (Quality Education), 8 (Decent Work and Economic Growth), and 10 (Reduced Inequalities).
Phil Taylor, Head of Open Innovation at Bayer Crop Science, served as one of the Youth Ag Summit jury members for the final pitch competition and announced farmCAS as one of the top winners during the Thrive for Change Awards on March 24. “[Chidinma] really took a novel and innovative approach to thinking about labor markets in her country and bringing almost a human resources approach to the type of challenges and needs that they face, but coupled it with truly exceptional market research and understanding of their challenges and their needs to put a very credible and impactful solution in place,” he praised. “farmCAS really equips farmers with the tools that they need to build capacity and build training in vegetable production.”
For Emiliano “Emi” Barbero, a young agri-biotechnology engineer from Argentina, it was water pollution that first captured his attention and made him start thinking about how to feed a hungry planet. “I am really concerned about the future of agriculture. The reserves of essential nutrients such as phosphorus are being depleted and, with this, the production of food is in danger,” Emi says. “The idea for BluTech was born after seeing the great problems caused by the eutrophication of water bodies and the large amount of wasted nutrients that cause problematic algal blooms.” Emi is also concerned about the millions of deaths and illnesses caused each year by water pollution and water-related diseases.
Building on his passion for microorganisms, Emi’s Thrive for Change project aims to transform a problem into a solution by fighting algae with…algae. “BluTech is about taking advantage of useful microalgae to eliminate nutrient pollution in bodies of water that puts people’s lives at risk,” explains Emi. “We will take the contaminated water to grow useful microalgae, produce biostimulants and biocontrollers for agriculture (to generate higher crop yields), and produce nutraceuticals for the food and pharma industry. While we do that, we will be helping to improve the water quality and, at the same time, to produce more and better food to feed a hungry planet.” BluTech is supported by a team of scientific advisors at three universities.
Emi’s project idea sounded very exciting to YAS jury member Patience Koku, who announced him as a winner during the YAS Thrive for Change Awards program. Patience, a Nigerian farmer who is also active with the Global Farmers Network and the Cornell Alliance for Science, told viewers that, “Emiliano’s project was very inspiring for me because it has, as a final by-product, something that will help farmers as a biostimulant…so this solves multiple challenges of purifying water, of also providing something for the food industry.” In all, BluTech will help address aspects of SDGs 2 (Zero Hunger), 3 (Good Health and Well-Being), 6 (Clean Water and Sanitation), 11 (Sustainable Cities and Communities), 12 (Responsible Consumption and Production), and 15 (Life on Land).