To mark the International Day for Disaster Risk Reduction, we reached out to students of the 3rd edition of the WFO Gymnasium Capacity Building Program, inviting them to share their experiences in disaster risk management and prevention. We collected their stories in this article, fostering collective awareness of the topic and amplifying efforts to build a resilient farming community.

On October 13th each year, the International Day for Disaster Risk Reduction (IDDRR) celebrates the efforts of people and communities worldwide in minimising their exposure to disasters and raising awareness about the significance of managing the risks that they face.

This day offers an occasion to recognise the strides made in the prevention and reduction of disaster risks and losses in lives, leading to safeguarded livelihoods, stronger economies, and resilient basic infrastructures.

Farmers, more than anyone else, know what it means to be affected by the outcomes of cataclysms, crises, and various unpredictable threats. A key risk factor for agriculture is the harsh outcomes of Climate Change, such as desertification, extreme weather, and scarcity of rainfall. Farmers are strongly affected but also hold the key to the solutions to tackle it and prevent severe effects of possible Climate-Change-related disasters.

It’s where farmer-driven solutions step in, securing the continuity of food production while fighting back climate crises.  

Young farmers are not only the future, but already the present of the agricultural sector.

They stand at the forefront of managing and preventing disasters together with the elder generations of farmers, to secure a future not only for themselves but for all the people and our planet.

That’s why ensuring that we have young, motivated professionals, who have the competencies to manage those risks and advocate to ensure needed support is a crucial step in building a prosperous and thriving future for Food Systems. Training and capacity-building programs are a cornerstone of it.

Therefore, the World Farmers’ Organisation (WFO) created the WFO Gymnasium Higl-Level Capacity Building Program, launched in 2017 in collaboration with Bayer and Andreas Hermes Akademie (AHA), which has already trained and empowered 46 active young farmers around the globe and provided them with more than 50 high-level advocacy opportunities at international conferences to effectively elevate the voices of global farmers into key policy-making arenas.

In this article, you can directly hear from the young students of this year’s 3rd edition of the WFO Gymnasium as they share their firsthand experiences in disaster risk management and prevention.

Leon Johann Andreas Ranscht (Deutscher Bauernverband -DBV, Germany)

WFO Gymnasium Students Share Lessons in Disaster Resilience: Inspiring Stories of Overcoming Challenges

I am Leon, a farmer from central Germany specialising in sugar beet, wheat, barley, and oilseed rape. Our farm faces significant challenges related to climate uncertainties and pest risks.

We use several strategies to reduce the risk of catastrophic drought. These include late mulching and the use of catch crops. Unfortunately, water resources are limited and implementing an extensive irrigation system for our crops is not financially viable. Instead, we have adapted our crop management to cope with summer drought by reducing tillage, adjusting planting dates, and optimising plant density.

One significant production risk could be the high population of mice, which is difficult to control and requires a lot of manual labour. Therefore, we have focused on integrated pest management by changing tillage patterns and volunteer plant patterns, as well as attracting natural predators.

Our commitment to these strategies is essential to meet the unique challenges our farm faces and ensure the sustainability of our farming practices.

Mawejje Harbert (Young Farmers Federation of Uganda – UNYFA, Uganda)

WFO Gymnasium Students Share Lessons in Disaster Resilience: Inspiring Stories of Overcoming Challenges

My name is Mawejje Harbert, and I am based in Uganda. Over the past two years, I have been managing a 10-acre farm where I primarily cultivate soybeans.

Typically, my farm has yielded an average of 500 kilograms per acre. However, in the 2021 season, a severe drought severely impacted my crop, resulting in a reduced yield of only 250 kilograms per acre. This setback was not only disheartening but also financially challenging since the diminished harvest didn’t even cover the production costs. Consequently, I could not plant for the following two seasons in 2022.

Fortunately, I have recently acquired a solar-powered irrigation pump. This essential addition to my farming equipment will enable me to irrigate my fields during periods of insufficient rainfall. Additionally, with the flexibility that the irrigation pump offers, I am planning to diversify my agricultural activities. I intend to venture into high-value horticultural crops, which promise more profitable returns than soybeans.

Silvia Caprara (Giovani di Confagricoltura – ANGA, Italy)

WFO Gymnasium Students Share Lessons in Disaster Resilience: Inspiring Stories of Overcoming Challenges

I am Silvia Caprara; I work in my family’s winery in Verona countryside, Italy, handling a variety of tasks, from caring for our vineyards to managing administrative responsibilities.

Fortunately, our farm has enjoyed a relatively safe location thus far, largely shielded from significant threats. Historically, our main challenge has been dealing with hailstorms. Installing protective nets over our vineyards proved to be a cumbersome solution. Consequently, we opted for insurance coverage to mitigate some of the financial losses caused by hail.

However, the signs of climate change are becoming more apparent: while hailstorms were once infrequent and localized, they are now increasing in frequency and scope. This growing trend poses a substantial challenge to our business, as nearly annual crop losses are becoming harder to sustain, and no insurance settlement can substitute the value of our harvest and work.

Patrick Kuyokwa (Farmers Union of Malawi – FUM, Malawi)

WFO Gymnasium Students Share Lessons in Disaster Resilience: Inspiring Stories of Overcoming Challenges

I am Patrick, a young Malawian farmer, producing maise, bananas and groundnuts while keeping cattle and goats.

Over the past decade, Malawi has been prone to seasonal flooding, drought and cyclones. I am a first-generation farmer, and these natural disasters have also impacted my farm. In 2022, Cyclone Ana hit Malawi, and in March 2023, Cyclone Freddy followed.  Dry spells followed these cyclones in some parts of the country, while flash floods were evident in some.

Apart from the loss of property and infrastructure, these natural disasters also lead to loss of lives and livelihoods. In our farming community in Malawi, natural disasters lead to the loss of crops and livestock and, most of the time, to low production due to unfavourable conditions.

The constant occurrence of these natural disasters required adapting disaster management tools on our farm to thrive amidst tragedy. We have adopted climate-smart agriculture techniques such as agroforestry, crop diversification and soil and water conservation. These tools help improve productivity amidst crises.

Jamie Pepper (National Farmers’ Federation – NFF, Australia)

WFO Gymnasium Students Share Lessons in Disaster Resilience: Inspiring Stories of Overcoming Challenges

My name is Jamie Pepper, and I am a beef and sheep farmer in Victoria, Australia, managing around 1,200 hectares.

This International Day for Disaster Risk Reduction is quite symbolic now that Australia has just declared El Nino. As we head into our summer months, the thought of bushfires, particularly in a dry summer as this is predicted to be, is real and scary.

My farm was partly burnt last year, and it is a terrible experience that many rural Australians experience. One benefit of the fire last year was that it forced me to be much more proactive to be “fire ready”. Having fire breaks, clearing fallen branches and petrol-powered water pumps ready on hot days are new initiatives to be prepared for another fire. I was very lucky not to lose a lot more animals, my house and (at one stage) my life in the fire last year. I have a second chance; I won’t waste it. Be prepared.

Katariina Latva (Maa- ja Metsätaloustuottajain Keskusliitto – MTK, Finland)

WFO Gymnasium Students Share Lessons in Disaster Resilience: Inspiring Stories of Overcoming Challenges

I am Katariina Latva from Finland and I work in my forests as well as outside the farm. I handle different kinds of tasks in my forests but usually use contractors to do the hard difficult machinery work.

Our forests have suffered from various disasters during the last 20 years, that I remember, mainly from forest fires, blast winds and floods. My family has always opted for the best insurance possible to cover possible losses. Especially in forestry, new pests have spread around, which means I need to think more carefully about how to manage my forests in the future, as the climate is changing. The biggest risk for forests at the moment is climate change, but also Irresponsible owners, whose pests are spread in unkempt .