Connecting You(th) on Water Issues!

Is water merely a component of an agricultural system?

Written by Jim Cano, Young Professionals for Young Professionals for Agricultural Development (YPARD)

As someone who studied agriculture, mostly from a crop-livestock production perspective, water is a crucial ‘component’; but never was it tackled beyond that viewpoint. After attending the 2nd Asian Irrigation Forum (AIF2) last January 20-22, 2016, which was organized by the Asian Development Bank (ADB), I started to ask myself this question, “Are we looking at the same coin?”

Frankly speaking, when I received the invitation to join the AIF2 from the Water Youth Network, it challenged me to think of the issues the water sector faces…which I barely had any grasp on. My training in agriculture looked at factors which affected production, marketing of agricultural commodities, extension services, policies affecting the industry, etc.

But water? It was talked about more as a component rather than the focus of research. Irrigation? It was just a topic in a basic agriculture engineering course. So a three-day forum on water (specifically irrigation and drainage) alone? This should be something important, and should be more than just talking about water as a part of a bigger system.

As the three days unfolded, I saw similarities between the two perspectives: agriculture and water. In the recently concluded High Level Policy Dialogue on Investment in Agriculture Research for Sustainable Development in the Asia-Pacific (HLPD), organized by the Asia-Pacific Association of Agricultural Research Institutions (APAARI) along with other international institutions, similar issues were raised at AIF2 in the aspect of institutional and political barriers, capacity-building, and attractiveness of the sector to youth.


Institutional barriers

The trend in agricultural investments is dwindling, not only in agriculture research, but as well as the water sector. The former was supported by a number of analyses by researchers shown during the HLPD; while the latter was seen in how a leading institution for irrigation and drainage training in the UK was shut down due to the cutting of government funding.


Political barriers

During the AIF2, Radhey Julaniya, Principal Secretary of the Government of Madhya Pradesh, India, commented on the matter of irrigation, “politicians are not the problem, they are partners”. Hmm…that is a new way of looking at things. But more often than not, the truth remains that, generally, agriculture and water are not top priorities in public spending. Definitely, there needs to be strategic lobbying for more investments in the two sectors.



Like the HLPD, there were only a few young people in the AIF2. Yes, there are a lot of experts in the fields of agriculture, irrigation and drainage. But what is alarming is that with the decades of development in the sectors, why are the young professionals and young farmers out of sight? Or if there are any, why are there few only being developed? Can we say that there is a lack of capacity building for the next generation of researchers, irrigation engineers, public servants, etc.?

Yes, most of the seasoned scientists, public servants, and entrepreneurs agreed with me when I raised this point during one of the roundtable discussions. Martin Burton, an Independent Management Consultant at ADB said, “Research institutions and government agencies, should have clear career pathways for new entrants in the two sectors; and not have the attitude where they’re only looking for a new pair of hands to fill a vacancy.” He stated this in the context of the irrigation sector, but the same is true for the agriculture sector.

When young people join an institution, the trend is to be pushed into the mold of that institution’s system – to maintain the status quo. Hence, there is very small room to be creative, to pursue knowledge and learning that will feed one’s passion. But with intentional career and mentoring programs for new entrants, young people can learn the ins and outs of the field, and be the champions that these sectors are needing.


Attractiveness to youth

Who wants to get their hands dirty and work under the sun when there are jobs that can pay you higher in better working environments? Generally, youth think so. But I believe that the lack of interest in working in the two sectors stems from a lack of awareness of their importance. The lack of awareness that simply farmers right now will not live forever to produce our food. That agriculture and water sectors can provide key solutions to climate change, hunger and poverty. That youth, with their creativity, passion, and unlimited access to information have a lot to offer to sectors with an aging population.

But aside from all that, what’s also lacking from the side of those already in the sector is the effective communication of the opportunities to change the world through agriculture and water. There are research institutions that have made efforts to reach high school students, and have seen a spark of interest in the fields of agriculture, agribusiness, forestry and environment-related courses. With young people wanting to make an impact in their society or country, showing them the door to a wide range of opportunities to do so in agriculture and water can get their attention.


One coin

After the three-day forum, I was more convinced that we need to look at the bigger picture and understand how different sectors complement each other; rather than analyzing them in isolation. Like what I said to Rozemarijn ter Horst of the Water Youth Network, it can be simply illustrated as a coin: the two sides represent agriculture and water; and, the rim may well be climate and energy. This sums up the food-water-energy-climate nexus.

Once we understand the relationship between these sectors more comprehensively, then we can build a stronger case in lobbying for their prioritization in nation states that do not do so yet, and address the aforementioned issues.