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Youth Participation Seen as “Crucial” for Future of Greater Mekong Agriculture

“Youth involvement is imperative, not just good to have if we want to develop sustainable agriculture,” according to Don Tan, director of corporate affairs at agricultural e-commerce platform Pinduoduo.

KJ Contributor
Agriculture in Mekong

Agriculture needs to embrace digitalization and technology to secure its future and attract more young people to take part in the industry, according to panelists at a seminar organized by the Asian Development Bank.

“The exodus of young people from rural areas is a crisis for hundreds of thousands of villages across the Greater Mekong Sub-region,” Andrew Bartlett, an advisor with the Lao Upland Rural Advisory Service, said in a keynote address to the seminar. “We need to engage with young women and men in the development of safe and climate-friendly value chains that will provide them with food, jobs, and income.”

The seminar was part of the 19th Annual Meeting of the Greater Mekong Subregion Working Group on Agriculture organized by the Asian Development Bank (ADB). The meeting focused on climate change in the context of the water-food-energy nexus and was held in Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam from June 21 to 23. Attendees included government officials, representatives from the agribusiness industry, and development organizations from Cambodia, China, Laos, Myanmar, Thailand, and Vietnam.

“Youth involvement is imperative, not just good to have if we want to develop sustainable agriculture,” Don Tan, director of corporate affairs at agricultural e-commerce platform Pinduoduo, said on the panel discussing youth participation in agriculture. “We need to inject new ideas and tech solutions into agriculture. Young people bring vitality and creativity.”

Pinduoduo is a leading agriculture platform in China. In 2020, it handled $42 billion worth of agriculture-related transactions on its online marketplace. According to the company, it has more than 800 million annual active users and has helped over 16 million farmers to sell their products through its platform.

One of its key initiatives is organizing an annual Smart Agriculture Competition to encourage young agricultural researchers to develop practical, cost-effective technology that can help smallholder farmers to improve their livelihoods. Its “New Farmer” program trains young entrepreneurs to set up and run their own online agricultural businesses, which has helped to create jobs in rural communities and connect less tech-savvy farmers to the digital economy.

The focus on pushing climate-smart agriculture comes as food demand from the Greater Mekong Subregion, which has an estimated population of 340 million in 2016, is expected to rise by at least 25% by 2050 based on population projections, according to the ADB. The increase is likely to be even higher if rising income levels are taken into consideration.

The increase in food demand will create substantial challenges as water availability is projected to drop substantially due to increasing climate variability, according to the ADB. This underscores the urgent need to manage the water-food-energy nexus effectively.

At the panel on youth participation in agriculture, Mayuree Boonyasenekul, a Thai agricultural official overseeing youth development in agriculture, said that “to help farmer development, it’s important to focus on farmer-centered learning, designed in collaboration with officials as their colleagues and coaches.”

For Christamol Sutawong of Young Smart Farmers Thailand, one of the key hurdles to the adoption of IoT and drone technology in agriculture is the perception of the older generations of farmers that it is costly and takes a long time to see returns on the investment.

Lyhour Heang, who is with the Impact Hub Phnom Penh in Cambodia, shared about the Dakdam incubation program for promising agricultural startups. The nine teams in the nine-month program directly created 37 jobs, benefitted 4,870 people and saw average revenue growth of 40% after joining the program.

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