October 31st marked a historic milestone – the birth of the world’s 7 billionth person, a baby girl named Danica, born in Manila, Philippines. This historic, albeit symbolic, milestone makes it clear that our population is increasing at a remarkable rate. According to the United Nations (U.N.), two centuries ago, it took 123 years for the population to grow from 1 billion to 2 billion, yet it took only 12 years to go from 6 billion to 7 billion.

 At this rate of growth, by the middle of the century, the global population will exceed 9 billion. Most of this growth is expected in developing countries, including countries in Asia, Africa, and Latin America, while Europe and North America will remain relatively flat. Consequently, the countries with the least amount of resources will experience the greatest food demands. On top of this rapid population growth, we’re seeing an exodus from life on the farm to life in the city, with a steady rise in levels of urbanization. The U.N. projects that by 2050, 69 percent of the world’s population will live in urban areas, further distancing people from where their food is grown and increasing the challenge of feeding this booming global population.

 Chances are pretty good this now famous baby girl will not become a farmer or even work in the agriculture industry. The Philippines, like many places, is increasingly moving from an agricultural-based economy to one focused on services and manufacturing. But if we’re going to feed our growing population, engaging our youth, rural and urban alike, and developing the next generation of farmers, scientists, governmental leaders and innovators in agriculture is critical.

 As our population continues to grow, we need to inspire our young people to help feed the world through innovation in agriculture. To do that, we have to ensure that farmers can feed themselves and make a viable living by growing food. In the developing world, we need to ensure that the growing number of youth – an estimated 1.8 billion youth worldwide – have the tools and resources necessary to become successful farmers and leaders. Transforming subsistence farmers to surplus farmers requires access to education, technology, financing tools, and linkages to markets. 

 During a trip to Malawi last year, as chair of the DuPont Advisory Committee on Agricultural Innovation and Productivity for the 21st Century, I witnessed firsthand the value of programs that prepare young people and their families to achieve sustainable livelihoods for themselves and their communities. As a Committee we recommended greater investment from both the public and private sector in youth development and education, with a particular focus on young girls. Indeed, meeting the challenge ahead will require collaboration with stakeholders in the agricultural sector and beyond.

 Those partnerships are happening. Last month, DuPont announced a $2 million investment and partnership with the Global 4-H Network (4-H). 4-H is one of the world’s largest youth development organizations and its mission is to help youth and their families gain the skills needed to be leaders within their communities.

Over the next two years, DuPont’s investment will allow 4-H to launch a year-round Leadership Institute for 4-H leaders and volunteers in Ethiopia, Ghana, Kenya, South Africa and Tanzania and expand a program for school-based youth, their families, and their communities to encourage young people to explore agriculture and embark on their role in feeding the world.

 The importance of these kinds of youth development initiatives cannot be over-emphasized. The vast challenge before us requires a long-term and sustained investment in youth around the world to develop tomorrow’s farmers, agriculture innovators and leaders, so that youth from rural Africa to urban Philippines can play a role in preventing hunger.

 About the author: Tom Daschle works for the global law firm DLA Piper and is chair of the DuPont Advisory Committee on Agriculture Productivity and Innovation. The former lawmaker was elected to represent the state of South Dakota in the U.S House of Representatives in 1978 and served four terms. In 1986, the Aberdeen, South Dakota native was elected to the U.S. Senate, becoming minority leader in 1994 and also serving on the U.S. Senate Committee on Agriculture, Nutrition and Forestry. He served as U.S. Senate Majority Leader in 2001-2002.

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