Connecting You(th) on Water Issues!

Youth Participation in the Asian Irrigation Forum

“#Youth should be more vocal about #AsianIrrigation Issues to give stakeholders a stronger sense of urgency. They need to know we are involved.” –Asian Youth Initiative

More than 100 stakeholders–policy-makers, Non-Government Organizations (NGO), research institutions, young professionals, young farmers and youth representatives, from different parts of the Asia converged last January 20-22, 2016 at the Asian Development Bank (ADB) Headquarters , Manila for the 2nd Asian irrigation Forum. This international event is organized by ADB, in collaboration with the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), Australian Water Partnership (AWP), and the International Water Management Institute (IWMI). 2nd Asian irrigation Forum carries the theme “Securing Water and Food for the Future”.

Back in 2012, the first Asian Irrigation Forum (AIF) was held. Amidst its attempt to properly address technical, socio-economic, political and financial constraints on Asia’s irrigation systems–via knowledge sharing, capacity-building, and multi-sectoral deliberation, issues remained unsettled.
For the second time, as a platform intended for a more empowered community that focuses specifically on the betterment of Asia’s current irrigation systems, the event set these following objectives: (1) Seek regional participants’ views to better understand country-level perspectives; (2) Highlight practical solutions that apply latest knowledge and innovations in irrigation; (3) Identify the scale of required investments and appropriate financing mechanisms, and (4) Understand the future challenges posed by declining population of irrigation practitioners.

The 2nd Asian Irrigation Forum was established in such a way that all aspects on irrigation are tackled deliberately —from specific factors affecting Asian irrigation’s successes and failures to various irrigation mechanisms. Areas of discussion include high-level dialogue on stakeholders’ country vision and strategy, financing, focal areas of investment and challenges and opportunities in irrigation; regional perspectives on revitalizing irrigation performance; Asia’s future on water demand as affected by population growth, changing energy and food demands, and climate change; innovations to meet future needs for water, energy and food; Delivering results through improved financing; managing extremes in irrigation; promoting good governance in irrigation; and the Youth-Led debate.

AIF2 youth involvement

Throughout the event, the youth were given the limelight to showcase their proactive views pertinent to the matter. Youth delegates actually had a powerful and active participation on information dissemination through social media and videography, round-table discussions and the debate. A total of twenty-two youth delegates represented various groups: the Young Professionals for Agricultural Development (YPARD), Water Youth Network (WYN), International Rice Research Institute (IRRI), Central Luzon State University (CLSU), Plan International, University of the Philippines (UP), and Ateneo de Manila University (ADMU).

“Information dissemination is important to increase awareness. #Youth should utilize social media to encourage participation #AsianIrrigation”. –ADB Youth Initiative

In the beginning of the program, the winners of the ADB Youth Video Competition were awarded. Interpreting the theme “Who’s Growing Tomorrow’s Food”, three entries coming from Asian youth exhibited the best appeal and compelling messages. Premises used by the winning entries geared towards addressing the declining interest of the present world on sustaining food security and food sufficiency, and maintaining good agricultural practices—such as irrigation. The winning entry by Saraswati Upadhaya from Nepal showed a very impactful material which calls for the youth to realize that they actually play a vital role to secure future’s food demands; the youth is challenged to dream and act towards this achievement as well.

Going through the course of this 3-day event, perspectives of young people are being listened and agreed by other sectors—both online and within the session’s premises. One of the most moving moments from the youth during the event was at the round table discussion on experiences and actions, under the “Institutional Challenges” section. YPARD Philippines country representative Jim Leandro Cano suggested to scientific community, as well as the policy makers to carry out mentoring programs and capacity building for youth farmers and young professionals in order to increase inclusive development, and to resolve more complex issues like problems in the current irrigation systems. Other youth delegates imparted their proactive views regarding these matters through social media.

“…#Youth are doing their part. We just need more opportunities to air our ideas.”
-ADB Youth Initiative

Perhaps the most influential part of the event where the youth is at center is the youth-led debate. This activity happened during the last day of the forum. Young farmers from Plan International, as well as debaters from the Philippines’ top universities—University of the Philippines and Ateneo de Manila University composed the proposition and opposition sides. This debate revolved around the motion: “Governments should subsidize cost of irrigation water for food production”. Both sides defended their stances, both with experiential and rational arguments. On the side of the proposition, irrigation subsidies should be provided by the government since it is high time for farmers to be granted such; moreover, this mechanism would allow farmers to gain more profit and to promote sustainability. While at the opposition, as they recognize the fact that in the developing countries, the government might not be able to provide such support, so will be willing to pay as long as benefits will be delivered; also, high subsidies might cause farmers to take the water resources for granted. Another point, subsidies “may become a barrier to policy reform; the harder it is to change structures in the future.” At the end of the session, points were considered. Teams end up in unity and peace.

Hopefully, this would genuinely open doors to future related endeavors, including youth-oriented agricultural programs.

Photo credits: Jim Leandro Cano and Rebecca Peters