30 years and beyond

13.06.2024 On Tuesday 11 June, more than 120 in-person and online participants joined the celebration of youth in agriculture at the HAFL Hugo P. Cecchini Institute’s fifth Annual Event in Zollikofen.

This year, the event, held in conjunction with festivities for 30 Years of International Agriculture (IL) at BFH-HAFL, focused on the next generation by involving youth as key presenters.

But to start things off, Head of the Institute Zenebe Uraguchi welcomed everyone and invited BFH Director Sebastian Wörwag to give the opening remarks.

Sebastian linked the event theme “Building bridges and joining forces: engaging youth in shaping sustainable food systems and landscapes” to three key areas – bridges between regions, between academia and the practical field, and between generations. He also emphasised the importance of addressing current global challenges such as geopolitical issues and climate change and highlighted the necessity of collaboration to solve these problems.

300 students in 60 countries

Keynote speaker Genna Tesdall, Director of Young Professionals for Agricultural Development (YPARD) pointed out how important it was for youth voices to be given the opportunity to present the keynote. Genna emphasised the importance of young people in driving change within the sector, but noted that several myths about youth in agriculture persist, especially with regard to their motivation and their opportunities. To address the issues, YPARD provides local workshops and online resources to better reach and support young agricultural professionals.

Head of International Agriculture Nancy Bourgeois Lüthi also emphasised the importance of future generations in advancing international agriculture. She recapped the 30-year history of the IL BSc degree programme at HAFL. Since its inception in 1994, the programme has placed students in nearly 60 countries, particularly in India, Cameroon, and Bolivia, with almost 80 host institutions. More than 300 students have participated, with nine currently in Latin America and Asia. Many alumni work in international corporations (around 20%), with 12% in extension services and 12% in farming, and about 60% of graduates work in Switzerland.

She reflected on the programme’s growth and future prospects, and emphasised the need to maintain a unique approach. Diversifying funding sources, exploring new geographical areas, and increasing IL’s visibility were also addressed. Nancy thanked those who built and now run this degree specialisation and stressed the importance of the next generation in continuing its success.

The changing Institute

Zenebe Uraguchi made a short and sharp presentation about the Institute’s future, mentioning last year’s evaluation. Since its foundation in 2020, the Institute is now in a “consolidation and improvement” phase with a “transformative” phase planned for 2030 onwards. Zenebe encouraged Sebastian Wörwag to keep the Institute and its international focus in mind for future funding, and suggested a potential rebrand in the future: to not only work on projects in non-OECD countries, but also a name change.

Enriching debates

Active participation for event attendees came in the form of three debates on hot topics: 1. Moving beyond the “Global North-South” dichotomy; 2. The future influence of Artificial Intelligence (AI) in academia; and 3. Farmer protests and societal disconnect.

Four young professionals in each debate – two pro and two contra – started proceedings before opening the floor for inputs from the audience. The one-hour timeslot was not enough time to come up with concrete solutions to these issues, but it was a great opportunity to “gauge the temperature” around the themes.

Debate 1 participants were almost unanimous in their agreement that stakeholders from the “Global North” should not take the lead in projects where they contribute the funding, allowing the “Global South” to make the lion’s share of decisions. Debate 2 participants believed AI should be seen as a tool, not a solution, and that key competencies for future use need consideration. Debate 3 discussions involved the missing appreciation for the foods farmers produce and margins in the value chain.

Wrap and the 2025 date

Head of Agriculture Peter Spring brought the proceedings to a close by sharing additional highlights of IL’s activities, including the programme’s pioneering role of bringing Problem-Based Learning (PBL) and the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) to HAFL and, ultimately, to BFH. 

The event was a great success and offered a wonderful opportunity for IL alumni to meet again, for current students to network, and for youth voices to be heard.

And save the date! We look forward to welcoming you to BFH-HAFL on 10 June 2025 for the sixth Annual Event (theme still to be advised).

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Subject area: Life Sciences + Food Science, Resource-efficient agricultural production systems