How ICBA empowers youth to contribute to global food security

Dr. Ismahane Elouafi

Director General
Thursday, May 28, 2020

Faced with climate change, natural resource depletion and population growth, the world looks set for an unsustainable future. Food insecurity and water scarcity are a reality for hundreds of millions of people, mainly in low-income countries. Experts warn that things will get only worse if we do not act sooner.

So the Sustainable Development Goals - a blueprint for global action - are our best bet to prevent a bleak tomorrow. We must work together and mobilize every segment of society, especially youth. Today young people make up a large share of the population in developing countries. It is an immense force. The good thing is that they are better connected with their peers at home and abroad than ever before, and many are more willing to serve their communities and the world.

We must harness the huge potential of the younger generation and engage them more actively in our efforts to achieve the SDGs. But to realize their full potential, young people need to be provided with necessary skills and opportunities.

This is the reason why we at the International Center for Biosaline Agriculture (ICBA) pay special attention to youth capacity development. We focus a lot of our efforts on equipping young people with skills and knowledge to become future scientists, entrepreneurs and leaders.

Since the establishment of our center in 1999, we have implemented different programs to support young people – from training courses to internships to placements.

Our most recent initiative is the ICBA YES (the Youth Engagement Society). We launched it in late November 2019 with the aim to facilitate communication and collaboration between young people in the UAE and their peers in other countries. The broader goal is to address local and global challenges related to food security and agricultural production in marginal environments, as well as to contribute to the achievement of the SDGs, through youth's cooperation with various stakeholders, including farmers, agripreneurs, and policymakers.

In March 2019, we also kicked off the first edition of the Arab Women Leaders in Agriculture (AWLA) fellowship program. Funded by the Islamic Development Bank (IsDB), the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and CGIAR Research Program on Wheat, the program helped to enhance the knowledge and capacity of 22 young women researchers from across the Middle East and North Africa region so that they can make a positive change in their workplaces, communities and countries.

Every year our center also offers opportunities to students and graduates from around the world to gain practical experience. We have provided internships to many students from countries like China, France, India, Morocco, Serbia, the UAE, USA, Uzbekistan and others. Our interns work with our scientists and practice at our center’s experimental fields and state-of-the-art laboratories. They conduct studies and projects on a wide range of subjects, including water and land management, crop diversification and genetics, and climate change modeling and adaptation. They also get a chance to publish their research in peer-reviewed journals. This experience helps to increase their chances to find better employment and make positive contributions in their home countries.

Through our capacity-building programs, we want to enable young people to become agents of change and contribute to sustainable agriculture and food production and environmental protection in marginal environments.

This kind of efforts are all the more important as the younger generation should be the face of future agriculture and food security. Agricultural R&D and innovation is spawning new ways of food production in many parts of the world. And food production is also moving to urban areas as it becomes more high-tech and resource-efficient. This helps to create more jobs in cities, but also raise youth’s interest in farming. Today there is a growing number of food start-ups led by young people. And this will be critical for future food security as the world needs a new breed of agripreneurs and innovators who will take food production to another level.