One of the main objectives of the World Farmers’ Organisation (WFO) at the 2023 United Nations Climate Change Conference (COP 28) was to elevate the perspective of youth in agriculture at the centre of global decision-making on climate change. 

This year, 19 students participating in the WFO Gymnasium program from around the world joined the WFO delegation at COP 28 in Dubai to amplify their voice in climate action debates and put their recently acquired leadership skills into practice. The 3rd edition of the WFO Gymnasium program kicked off in February of 2023 and concluded with its final in-person training sessions culminating in a Graduation Ceremony. 

Launched in 2017, this capacity-building program, held in partnership with Bayer and The Andreas Hermes Akademie, has already trained and empowered 66 active young farmers worldwide, providing them with 50 high-level opportunities in policy-making arenas to advocate effectively on behalf of the world farmers. 

The program, led by WFO Young Focal Point Ms Maria Giulia De Castro since the very beginning, recognises the pivotal role of continuous learning in all professional experiences, emphasising the acquisition of soft skills and the management of intellectual capital as crucial elements for success in a highly competitive environment that demands diversified knowledge and specialised expertise. 

Throughout the year, young farmers had a chance to learn from both each other and international leaders involved in various agricultural policy areas on a global scale. Furthermore, an expert coaching team guided them through soft skills training to enhance their leadership abilities and strengthen their advocacy capacities. Some of the students also attended and actively engaged in global events related to agriculture, such as the World Food Forum and the Global Conference on Sustainable Livestock. Additionally, they got involved in various WFO communication campaigns, e.g. sharing their stories of disaster resilience.  

COP 28 has served as a strong reminder that the next generation of Agriculture leaders holds tremendous potential to drive positive change within the sector. Hence, prioritising investments in their capacity-building and empowerment is crucial for advancing the sustainable and prosperous future of food systems and farming. 

Students Lead GymX: Bridging Climate Debates to Ground-Level Solutions 

The GymX was an integral component of the WFO Gymnasium capacity-building program and served as a vital element in the training curriculum. It aimed to enhance and equip the young farmers in the 2023 gymnasium cohort with the necessary skills and knowledge to effectively advance their perspectives on agricultural issues and ideas in COP 28. 

The contest’s first edition preceding COP 28, the mini GymX, took place on May 2, with Silvia Caprara from ANGA winning it and being rewarded with fully funded participation at the 2023 WFO General Assembly. 

Through a series of 5 high-level sessions, the young farmers were able to spearhead a transformative endeavour in GymX, continuously amplifying their voices in matters of food and agriculture. The sessions represented high-level panel discussions, fully prepared, conducted, and moderated by students, featuring speakers from the relevant sectors, including WFO members.  

The first session of the series called Harvesting Hope: Empowering Youth for Agricultural Sustainability took place on December 3 in the Pavilion of the Inter-American Institute for Cooperation on Agriculture (IICA). It was organised by Gymnasium participants, namely Mr Ran Sineat (CFAP), Ms Marlize Grobbelaar (SAAI), and Ms Dainalyn Swaby (JNRWP), who also moderated the discussion. Two students of the program, Ms Ana Carolina Zimmermann (CNA) and Ms Evangelista Chekera (ZFU), along with Mr Curt Delice, IICA Special Affairs Coordinator for the Caribbean Region, and Mr Enrico Parisi, National Delegate of Coldiretti Giovani Impresa, participated in the panel. The conversation centred around sustainable practices promoting conservation and sustainable land usage. 

Panellists of the GymX session “Harvesting Hope: Empowering Youth for Agricultural Sustainability”

Panellists of the GymX session “Harvesting Hope: Empowering Youth for Agricultural Sustainability

On December 9, followed the second session of GymX, titled: Youth as the Caretaker of Nature for Tomorrow. Mr Mawejje Harbert (UNYFA), Ms Cynthia Tewete (NSFAM), and Ms Silvia Caprara (ANGA), all young farmers of the Gymnasium program, led the discussion at the International Chamber of Commerce (ICC) Pavilion. The panel featured Ms Betty Chinyamunyamu, CEO of the National Smallholder Farmers’ Association of Malawi (NSFAM), and Mr Magdi Batato, Executive Vice President of Nestlé. The session focused on increasing awareness about the significance of preserving and safeguarding nature, land, and oceans, highlighting the pivotal role of youth in this process.

Panellists of the GymX session “Youth as the Caretaker of Nature for Tomorrow”

Panellists of the GymX session “Youth as the Caretaker of Nature for Tomorrow”

The 3rd GymX discussion, Can Agriculture as We Know It Financially Survive? took place on the same day in the Renewable Energy Association (REA) Pavilion. It was organised by Mr Conrad Vanessen (CFA), Mr Patrick Kuyokwa (FUM), and Mr Elia Bettelli (Coldiretti Giovanni), participants of the 3rd Gymnasium edition. The panel was joined by Mr Keith Currie, CFA President. Speakers delved into the challenges young farmers encounter in acquiring financial resources for their businesses.

Panellists of the GymX session “Can Agriculture as we Know it Financially Survive?”

Panellists of the GymX session “Can Agriculture as we Know it Financially Survive?”

The panel, Powering Change: Sustainability and the Future of Food, was held in the (REA) Pavilion on the same day. Young farmers led this discussion — Mr Leon Ranscht (BDL), Mr Kemei Mark Kiprono (KENAFF), Mr Jamie Pepper (NFF), Ms Zunon Gbotta Linsay Sarah (ANASEMCI) alongside Mr Paolo Di Stefano, Head of the Coldiretti Office in Brussels. The panellists exchanged insights on the challenges, opportunities, and innovative solutions that sustainable energy systems can offer to create a resilient future for agriculture. 

Panellists of the GymX session “Powering Change: Sustainability and the Future of Food”

Panellists of the GymX session “Powering Change: Sustainability and the Future of Food”

The last GymX session, titled Cultivating Resilience: Exploring the Interconnected Impact of Agriculture and Renewable Energy, also took part on the 9 of December. The session was organised and led by Gymnasium students, namely Ms Siobhan Wakeling (FED), Mr Nicoló Bertorello (Coldiretti Giovani Impresa), and Ms Katariina Latva (MTK). The panel engaged in discussions regarding the potential of renewable energy not only to help mitigate the impact of climate change on agriculture but also to foster sustainable practices that safeguard the well-being of communities worldwide. 

Panellists of the GymX session “Cultivating Resilience: Exploring the Interconnected Impact of Agriculture and Renewable Energy”

Panellists of the GymX session “Cultivating Resilience: Exploring the Interconnected Impact of Agriculture and Renewable Energy”

Gymnasium’s 3rd Edition Graduation Ceremony: Ending One Chapter, Starting a Leadership Journey 

On December 7, while COP 28 had a rest day, the WFO Gymnasium reached its pinnacle with the 3rd edition’s Graduation Ceremony. It was attended by the program partners, including representatives from Bayer, Ms Jennifer Crall, Global Head Partnerships-Growers Engagement, and Mr Mauricio Rodrigues, Head of Bayer Crop Science, alongside Mr Andreas Quiring, Director at Andreas Hermes Akademie, who joined the ceremony remotely.  

At this event, students shared feedback on their one-year journey, describing their experiences and the soft and leadership skills they acquired. 

WFO President, Arnold Puech d’Alissac, attended the ceremony to congratulate the students on their achievements. In his speech, he emphasised that while the program had come to an end, the spirit of networking and knowledge sharing will persist through WFO and its network, allowing them to put into practice newly acquired skills and knowledge to elevate the voice of farmers on the global scale. 

Mr Andreas Quiring congratulated the young farmers on completing the Gymnasium journey, and highlighted the significance of connection and mutual understanding for their growth as leaders in the agricultural sector. 

Mr Mauricio Rodrigues acknowledged the dedication of the young farmers to their journey of growth and expressed anticipation for the upcoming WFO youth platform: “I’m looking forward to seeing the future of WFO and its work in developing the platform for youth, WFO Young.” 

To strengthen WFO’s commitment to empowering youth in agriculture globally, WFO is actively developing the WFO Young. This platform will be the first of its kind, offering young farmers worldwide a space to connect, share ideas, and collaborate. Further information regarding the platform’s launch will follow soon.  

WFO Gymnasium’s 3rd Edition Graduation Ceremony

WFO Gymnasium’s 3rd Edition Graduation Ceremony