Globally, the need to attract youth into the farming sector has become ubiquitous. From the United States, where the average age of a farmer is 57 to Japan, where the average age is 67, factors such as urbanization and high startup costs have created an ageing crisis with implications for food security. For some countries, attracting young blood to the sector is a matter of survival. In the Caribbean, for example, where 80% of all food is imported and climate shocks have put farmers at the mercy of the environment, innovation, technical literacy and fresh energy have become a necessity.
But crisis conditions have a way of breeding change. And across the region, there is a growing movement of young, dynamic agri-entrepreneurs who are not only succeeding in agriculture, but are influencing their peers to get involved too. Regional stakeholders have gotten involved as well, identifying emerging agri-business leaders and helping them to extend their reach, so as to attract more youth to the sector.
All of a sudden, Caribbean agri-business is looking alot more sexy, and not so old.
“To effect a true change to youth engagement in agriculture, a rethinking, a paradigm shift is taking place in how we view and engage with youth,” said Carla Barnett, Secretary-General of the Caribbean Community (CARICOM) Secretariat at the launch of “I Am Agriculture: Youth in Agriculture,” a CARICOM social media campaign that was developed with the support of the United Nations World Food Programme.
“Caribbean youth have risen to the call for food and nutrition security by embracing the region’s 25 by 2025 initiative,” says Shawn Baugh, Programme Manager of Agriculture and Agro-Industry Development at the CARICOM Secretariat, of the push to reduce food imports from outside the region and cut the Caribbean’s $5 billion food import bill 25% by 2025.
“Our CARICOM young agri-prenuers have been demonstrating their commitment to transforming the Agricultural food system by infusing technology and digitization to improve production, productivity and trade. Ideally making agriculture sustainable, efficient, profitable and attractive.”
The new generation of Caribbean farmers is accomplished, smart, stylish, techy and under the age of thirty-five. Goodbye grandpa in overalls! Here are five young Caribbean farmers who are pushing back against the traditional image of farming.
Toni-Ann Lalor: Jamaica
“I am a farmer; at my core, I am woman,” reads a recent post by agri-entrepreneur, actress, model, teacher and philanthropist, Toni-Ann Lalor to her 48.1k Instagram followers.
Lalor, best known as Jamaica’s “Farm Queen,” earned that title in 2019, at the age of 24, when she competed in the Miss Jamaica World pageant, in which she took home the ‘Beauty with a Purpose’ award.
As the Owner and Operator of Toni’s Fresh Produce, Lalor frequently posts images of colorful fruits and vegetables— sweet potato, carrot, watermelon, pumpkin, yam, sweet pepper, tomato, and cantaloupe— that she grows herself.
Lalor is an advocate for the economic potential of agriculture, particularly among the youth, and is living proof that farming is not a job for the elderly or uneducated. To the contrary, Lalor was able to pay for her studies towards a Bachelor of Fine Arts degree with earnings from her farm.
In 2022, Lalor competed against 53 other contestants and won the Miss United Nations World title in India. Her platform was food sovereignty and hunger reduction.
Of her win, Lalor told the Jamaica Observer newspaper, “This fits so well into my bigger plan to rebrand agriculture to attract young people . We need to start this conversation about making it more appealing by looking at issues of food security, innovation and technology.”
“She has never left out that she is a farmer,” says Jamaica’s Minister of Agriculture and Fisheries, Pearnel Charles Jr. “She said to the world, ‘look how beautiful a farmer can be’ and that means a lot to me, my daughter and other youth looking on.”
John Jones: Barbados
“Over 25 different crops I’m giving away to anyone who wants to grow here in Barbados. Let’s grow together,” read a recent Tweet from farmer John Jones, whose image of an impressive seed library amassed almost 700 likes from his rapidly growing fan base.
The 30-year-old Director of Thirteen Acre Farms Ltd has become a bonafide Bajan celebrity since acquiring his own farm 18-months ago, and wants to reduce his nation’s food import bill by growing crops like broccoli, which Barbados exclusively imports. He also hopes to open farms throughout the Caribbean that will support the region’s 25 by 2025 initiative.
Jones, a well-traveled former college basketball star, who graduated from Illinois State University with a Bachelor of Science degree in Agribusiness, wants to foster engagement and participation in the production of Barbados’ local foods. For more than a year, he has been providing hands-on training in farming to both children and adults.
“Teaching my own people how to farm and sharing my knowledge was always a big deal for me,” he says. “Let’s all grow together.”
Alpha Sennon: Trinidad & Tobago
Alpha Sennon, a 35-year-old “FarmerPreneur” and agri-business graduate from the University of the West Indies is both a farmer and a social entrepreneur on a mission to inspire the youth of the region to get interested in farming.
As Founder and Executive Director of award-winning NGO, WHYFARM, Sennon wants “to contribute towards achieving food and nutrition security via innovation, creativity and agripreneurship.”
In keeping with this mission, Sennon created the world’s first and only Food and Nutrition Security Superheroes: “AGRIman” and “Photosynthesista,” the protagonists of the AGRIMAN AGventures comic book series sold throughout the Caribbean.
Sennon and WHYFARM have received backing from The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, Kirchner Impact Foundation, Thought For Food Foundation and Digicel.
In 2022 Sennon joined the class of 50 NEXT, as one of the world’s 50 best trailblazing activists, and was named as one of the world’s leading social entrepreneurs and thought leaders by Ashoka, from which he received Trinidad & Tobago’s first ever Ashoka Fellowship for social entrepreneurship.
Teesha Mangra-Singh, Guyana
Twenty-seven year old Teesha-Mangra Singh of Guyana is the CEO of President Dr Irfaan Ali’s Agriculture and Innovation Entrepreneurship Programme (AIEP), which provides agri-entrepreneurs between the ages of 18 and 35 with the opportunity to farm and sell a variety of high value crops in the convenience of government constructed climate smart shade houses. The programme, which was launched in January 2022, is a key element of government’s agri-business strategy.
Mangra-Singh, who has a Diploma in Agriculture from the Guyana School of Agriculture and a Bachelor’s degree in Agriculture from the University of Guyana, recalls that initially, people tried to discourage her from getting into the male-dominated industry, but her love for nature, animals and agriculture would pay-off. She now devotes her time to encouraging other women and youth to join the rapidly growing agricultural sector and was a recent speaker at Guyana’s Women and Youth Agriculture Symposium.
“We need youths in agriculture because they are the largest shareholder of our population, and we need food to get us closer to security,” said Mangra-Singh to local news provider, the Guyana Times. “Our entire farm is climate-smart, and we use innovative practices because we understand that youths are more au fait with technology, and they are more prone to work with innovative practices rather than traditional farming, where you have to go out in the sun.”
Anastasha Elliott: St. Kitts & Nevis
Anastasha Elliott is an agri-entrepreneur who adds value to her country’s organic and indigenous plant and marine ingredients through her business, Sugar Town Organics.
Sugar Town Organics is a health and wellness company that Elliott started in 2004, specializing in ethical products made of natural ingredients typically sourced from either her garden, the neighboring mountains, or from an organic herb farm in her community.
Sugar Town Organics’ beauty brands, Yaphene and Marapa skincare carry “Caribbean food infused” vegan skin, hair and body care products that are inspired by traditional beauty practices, herbal remedies, food and culture of the Caribbean, while Baba Lullaby is Sugar Town Organics’ natural baby skincare line.
Flauriel, Elliott’s food and drink brand, crafts wines, condiments, snacks and other products using Caribbean produce and traditional practices. Flauriel Soursop Jelly, for example, is made from the freshly squeezed juice of soursop harvested directly from Elliott’s garden.
Elliott is passionate about the role of natural remedies in the maintenance of good health and well being— and she is just as passionate about entrepreneurship.
Caribbean youth agri-entrepreneurship is the region’s best bet for a more resilient future— particularly in the context of climate change and the cost of living and supply chain challenges experienced globally since 2020.
Traditional rules of agriculture typically do not account for the new realities associated with climate change, such as unpredictable weather patterns, extended droughts, and the increase in frequency of extreme weather events. An old and ageing workforce and manual processes might not be able to adapt as quickly to rapidly changing global conditions.
“We need to look at solutions that the youth have to offer. We need to listen to the youth and identify what some of the solutions are. Now more than ever youth need to be part of the solution to the various challenges that we’ve been discussing,” says Regis Chapman, Representative & Country Director at the World Food Programme Multi-Country Office for the English and Dutch-Speaking Caribbean.
Youth involvement in agriculture is paramount for the achievement of inclusive and sustainable economic growth, employment and decent work (UN Sustainable Development Goal 8). Agriculture also provides a pathway for youth empowerment, poverty reduction, and food and nutritional security. The time has come for young, fresh energy to revitalize a sector that currently meets only 20% of the region’s food demand— for a true entrepreneur, this spells opportunity.