Skip to content

Food and fibre must include youth in the decision making for our industry’s future

Cheyenne Wilson is the chair of the Food and Fibre Youth Network and a Graduate Maori Relationship Partner for DairyNZ.

Cheyenne Wilson smiling at the camera.The food and fibre sector is crucial to New Zealand’s wellbeing. For the industry to grow, prosper and take advantage of opportunities it must harness the energy and potential of young people. With fresh eyes come new innovations and creativity that could strengthen the outlook for the sector for years to come. For that to happen, the young voice must not only be heard but importantly, listened to.

The workforce challenges presented by COVID-19 have been difficult for producers. But it has also presented an immense opportunity for the food and fibre sector to attract and secure a diverse and inclusive workforce for the future. Through training, well-being strategies and pathways to career progression, New Zealand can lock in a new generation of motivated workers that will become the leaders of tomorrow.

The Food and Fibre Youth Network is uniquely placed to make a lot of difference by bringing a pan-sector youth voice to the industry and decision makers. We’re motivated and ready to engage. Our message is: we’re here, let’s korero.

The ambition of Fit for a Better World to promote inclusivity aligns with what our industry needs. Youth must be included in the decision making that will assist in forging our industry’s future. It is our future. We need to inherit something that we have already helped to shape.

To respond to the struggles of labour shortages we must be truly people centric. We could create a pan-sector approach to get the right people into the right roles by recruiting as an industry rather than in silos. That would encourage retention and go a long way to secure the sector’s future.

Leaders in food and fibre have the responsibility to act as guardians for who comes next. Effective mentoring by active and relatable members of the industry is crucial for young people in the industry to prosper. People cannot plough their furrows alone; they need to have a team of supporters around them. We are lucky in our industry that when you reach out for help, very few will turn you away.

The Generation Change programme from the Agri-Women’s Development Trust could be a benchmark for how others can develop models for mentoring young people in the industry.

Investing in the workforce of tomorrow should empower them to test tried-and-true farming methods and explore the wisdom that can be gathered from the past, including Mātauranga Māori. We can draw on more knowledge if we encourage diverse perspectives. 

The sector has a duty to look after the wellbeing and mental health of its workforce. Programmes like Farmstrong are there to help farmers engage with each other. We must look after ourselves and each other in order to help look after Aotearoa. 

We can only continue to prosper if we responsibly manage the precious resources we draw on. This obviously means an increased focus on environmental sustainability. But it also involves enabling people – including those new to their careers – to thrive within our industry.

There should be a place for everyone in Aotearoa’s food and fibre sector to grow and share their passion for producing.