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Feeding the World: The Most Rewarding Field of Study

Would you study agricultural sciences in Europe today?

We all know the numbers by heart: 9 billion people by 2050. What may be less evident is that such a population increase implies that we will need to produce 70% more food to feed all of us. This also means that 3 billion tons of cereals and 470 million tons of meat per year are required. These are daunting challenges and their solution will require many new ideas from people with a suitable scientific and technological background, who are able to turn them into game-changing innovations. Academia can therefore play a critical role in providing the required competences and skills to the new generations of innovators in the agricultural sciences. Is this currently happening, though? And in particular, are students choosing this academic track over others? The numbers speak for themselves. The academic field with the lowest number of graduates in Europe – only 1.67% of all graduates – is agriculture and veterinary science. At the same time, the average age of farmers across the world is 55, so you start to get a measure of the problem.

This is an interesting conundrum: on the one hand we are keenly aware of the food security challenge and on the other, students today by and large are not enthusiastic about getting a degree in agriculture or food science. And this is not a purely European phenomenon; while the US enrollment in agriculture-related studies grew 28.5% between 2005 and 2012, that is still not enough to satisfy industry demand for professionals.

A lack of interest in agriculture critically hinders innovation and the sharing of knowledge and best practices. Is it because when we think of food we think of supermarkets and not arable land? Perhaps agriculture lacks the attractiveness of other fields of study? I believe the challenge is two-fold: we need to show young people that agriculture is a field with high potential for employability and personal development, but most importantly, is a field that is not only intimately linked with everyday life but also one where they ultimately put their minds and imagination to work to solve some of the world’s largest challenges.

We need to ignite students’ passion for solving the food security challenge, which goes well beyond understanding the numbers that will befall us by 2050. As they acquire academic competences spanning from plant breeding to plant molecular biology among others, this passion will instill in them that sense of purpose and fulfillment which shaped those generations of students before them who used what they had learned to drive large scale transformations to benefit the world.   

Lately there have been some very positive signs which should make us more optimistic about the future. Today DuPont is announcing that we have exceeded our food security goal on youth engagement. In 2012, we set ambitious goals to help end world hunger. We committed $10 billion to Research & Development and the introduction of 4,000 new products, we set up programs and partnerships to improve rural communities, and we promised to facilitate two million youth engagements around the world by 2020.

Some of these projects have been in partnership with youth development organizations like 4-H, which trains and mentors young people in agricultural innovation and farming practices. Other projects we have launched on our own, like the DuPont Pioneer University Project in Ukraine, a country where 5 million agricultural professionals are needed in the next 5 years.

Meeting this goal is a source of pride and an indication that maybe things are starting to change. The challenges we face in agriculture, whether scientific, environmental, or socio-economic, are so numerous that they cannot be solved by simply applying existing knowledge and best practices; they require a new paradigm for innovation which needs to be built with a massive amount of new ideas, emotional engagement, and collaboration. New generations of students that see and embrace this can be certain that their decision will be for the best cause and can look forward to a professional life rich in achievements and satisfaction.

Dr. Simone Arizzi is Technology & Innovation Director for Europe, Middle East and Africa at DuPont.