In this month’s regular column from CEJA (European Council of Young Farmers), President Alan Jagoe tells us about a new initiative for collaboration between European and Chinese young farmers.
MF: What is your involvement in the new EU-China initiative?
AJ: In May, I had the pleasure of being invited to speak at the official signing ceremony of the ‘EU-China Project on capacity building for young professional farmers and agricultural professionals’. This is a cooperation project between the European Union and the People’s Republic of China, with young farmers in mind. Together with the Chinese Minister for Agriculture, Han Changfu and EU Commissioner for Agriculture and Rural Development, Phil Hogan, I had the great honour of officially announcing the agreement of this joint cooperation for the good of young farmers.
MF: Does farming in China face similar obstacles to Europe?
AJ: We may come from different continents and different backgrounds but the same challenges exist for farming and agriculture the world over. It is us as young farmers who will be tasked with facing these challenges and indeed the opportunities into the future. I think that is something we should work on together. With my involvement in CEJA I have had the chance to see first-hand the obstacles that many young farmers have to contend with, be they entering or already established within the sector. Access to land, access to affordable credit and finance, availability of advisory services and education for young farmers continue to be worldwide issues.
MF: What can young farmers do?
AJ: As young farmers, we need to embrace change and innovation, to produce more with less. The need for some of us to get bigger and better and others smaller and smarter will ensure that we provide the food that consumers and civil society have now come to take for granted. We cannot forget - and must not let consumers forget - that every day, three times a day, everybody needs a farmer.
MF: Have you personally had any experience in China?
AJ: In 2013 I visited China as part of an Irish agri-food trade mission. We spent a lot of time travelling to many of the dairy and beef processors who all took a lot of interest in me as a farmer. They wanted to know about what I did, how I did it and were eager for any advice that could be shared between us. What I took away from that visit was simple. We are not in competition but are partners in our field. This collaboration is an opportunity to strengthen the relationship between European and Chinese young farmers.
MF: Do young farmers have any advantages?
AJ: As young farmers we are the new environmentalists. We ensure that our farms are farmed in a sustainable way. Soil health and soil fertility, air and water quality, climate change, biodiversity and enhancing our ecosystems are part and parcel of our farming lives. It is often the case that, as a new generation, young farmers are not only better educated, but also have more contact with cities and modern market economies than our older counterparts. This allows us to be closer to consumers and appreciate and understand changes in society.
MF: What are the benefits of cooperation?
AJ: This cooperation between Chinese and European young farmers will allow us a better understanding of our future. The use of knowledge transfer and extension, advisory services and education will ensure that as YF we have the best tools available to us to embrace the challenges and opportunities in the future. If these farmers are choosing to be bold enough to work in these areas, to provide a vital service, then I believe it is common decency that the areas in which they work and live are developed to an acceptable level, to encourage them to stay. Farmers and farm families are the heartbeat of rural areas. It does not matter whether you are in Ireland or the Jilin province, when farmers leave rural areas everybody leaves.
MF: What is your vision for the project?
AJ: Now is the time to push forward into a new age of reforms in the agricultural sector in Europe. Generational renewal is at the forefront of everyone’s minds, and rightfully so. In taking this step we have enabled the opportunity to facilitate some innovative and new learning between groups who would otherwise never be allowed the chance. We’re in a landscape where the challenges and barriers facing young farmers can seem insurmountable without the proper support. We want to support them, so that one day they can provide for us all too.
If you would like to contact Alan Jagoe, email email@example.com
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