Interview with Ayesha Constable
Ayesha Constable, the Jamaican National Coordinating Officer of the Japan Caribbean Climate Change Partnership (JCCCP) and founder of Young People for Action on Climate Change Jamaica, explains the importance of recognising youth as agents of change capable of creating effective climate-smart agriculture (CSA) solutions.
Why is it important to engage youth in climate-smart agricultural initiatives?
Climate change is a very real phenomenon. In Jamaica it is already affecting a number of industries, namely tourism and agriculture, which are directly dependent on elements of the environment. In rural parts of the Caribbean, many young people are migrating because they do not see prospects in agriculture. By engaging youth in CSA, we are ensuring both sustainability of the industry and long-term food security. What’s more, youth can bring a level of innovation and creativity to CSA initiatives to ensure the initiatives have the desired impact.
It is important that young people see agriculture as a space in which they can build a livelihood, but not necessarily in a way that their grandparents would have. I often come across young people who say that agricultural work is too difficult, they believe that tilling the soil by hand is too much work. But by engaging them in CSA, we can provide young people with tools to ensure greater viability of agriculture in the era of climate change. This results in improved economic resilience and food security, which is important for the long-term development of our societies.
What motivated you to start advocating for young people to participate in discussions about climate change adaptation?
I have done a lot of work in youth development in the Caribbean, which relates to youth unemployment and youth engagement in politics, particularly girls’ empowerment. My doctoral studies focus on agriculture and the impacts of climate change, and it was here that I first saw the need to engage rural youth in climate change work. I have since had the good fortune of participating in youth conferences and workshops outside of Jamaica. One in particular was the 2013 Global Power Shift Conference in Turkey. At this event I realised how many young people from all over the world are doing amazing work related to climate change. But there was just not enough representation of young people from the Caribbean. In fact, I think that I was the only Jamaican at that event and I came away determined to do what I can to bring the voices of Caribbean youth into climate change discussions.
Young people have inherited problems that were created by past generations, but they need to recognise that they are agents of change, who can bring very real solutions to the climate challenges we currently face. If we are going to successfully pursue climate adaptation then young people need to see themselves as central to driving this process.
How can policymakers do more to include young people, particularly women, in the development of climate-smart solutions?
I think policymakers, NGOs and research institutions need to provide youth and women with more than just a token space in development planning. It is about recognising the right of young people to be at the table and the prudence of allowing them to contribute fully to decision-making. In some countries, politics is still practiced in a very top down way, decision-making is centralised, and inclusion of stakeholder perspectives is limited. We need to allow for a bottom-up approach to planning, particularly in climate discussions, because what is climate-smart in one location is not necessarily climate-smart in another location. By creating entry points for the voices of young people to be included, we are empowering the next generation of leaders to be involved. For example, policies to encourage women’s involvement in STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) industries will play a big part in improving young women’s involvement in CSA.
Does technology have a role to play in attracting youth to climate-smart agriculture?
In a big way, technology is what attracts youth to agriculture. We must demonstrate to young people how technological tools can be applied in agriculture and transformed into CSA solutions. Even where there is not yet widespread access to technology, young people are ‘technology natives’ who are interested in the use of simple ICTs, such as mobile phones, in agriculture. We still have work to do in terms of building awareness around climate change and CSA, and I think that technology can play a role in bringing about that kind of awareness. A virtual farming game – Cario Farm – was recently launched in the Caribbean through the JCCCP to teach players how to make informed, climate-smart decisions about planting, harvesting and selling produce. The game forces the consideration of economic and environmental factors in making critical choices about farming activities with the hope of encouraging long-term change in perceptions and attitudes to farming. We need to equip young people with the tools to become more climate resilient because, through them, we can better equip society as a whole to be more resilient.