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Now is the time for youth to explore digital agriculture

July 26, 2021

These days, when we think of innovation in science and technology, we often think of advancements in areas like health, the environment or space. But, what about our food?

With eating being such an integral part of our everyday lives, it’s easy to forget that every ingredient in our food is a part of a larger food chain – one that most likely began right here in Canada. In fact, agriculture is one of the biggest contributors to Canada’s economy. In recent years, the sector has employed over 2.3 million Canadians which accounts for one in eight jobs (Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada, 2017). And, despite the many economic challenges industries have faced due to COVID-19, Canada’s agriculture and agri-food sectors remain strong in comparison. 

That’s because agriculture is a major contributor to Canada’s trade and commerce and the primary source of our food supply. But, as the world’s population continues to grow, so does the demand for food. According to the UN, the world’s population is expected to increase by 2 billion people in the next 30 years. As a result, now more than ever, it’s imperative we explore innovative solutions to increase the efficiency, equitability and sustainability of our food systems.

Luckily, these solutions are within arm’s reach, using the power of STEM.

For years now, people across Canada have been revolutionizing how we produce, deliver and dispose of our food. Thanks to STEM, we can now benefit from innovative technologies such as automatic feeding and milking technologies, information technology in drones to measure crop health and digital biometric sensors and electronic identification devices to help farmers take better care of their animals. STEM is also being used to address some of the most prominent threats to global food security like climate change, growing populations and resource shortages. 

Yet, for many young people across Canada, “agriculture” isn’t the first thing you’ll hear them say when asked where they want to work when they grow up. So how do we get more young people engaged and interested in the diverse STEM jobs in agriculture? We help them explore all it has to offer!

Introducing the Exploring Digital Agriculture Project

One of Canada’s five Superclusters organizations, Protein Industries Canada (PIC), has partnered with Actua, Enterprise Machine Intelligence & Learning Initiative (EMILI) and Agriculture in the Classroom Canada (AITC-C) to help address the agriculture industry’s growing need for a diverse and skilled workforce. Together, we’re focused on growing and strengthening the digital agriculture ecosystem in Canada by building skills, awareness for and interest in plant protein, agrifood and digital agriculture sectors among youth.

The program builds off Actua’s existing programs by engaging K-12 youth living in Canada’s prairie provinces (Saskatchewan, Alberta and Manitoba) in high-impact, hands-on STEM programs. These programs are designed to build critical, in-demand skills in the plant-protein, agrifood and digital agriculture sectors and connect participants to relevant careers paths and opportunities. The educational content delivered in this program focuses on promoting equity, diversity, and inclusion in the industry by incorporating diverse perspectives, values, and worldviews, especially those of Indigenous peoples who have a deep connection and understanding of the land and its ecology.

You can read more about this project here.

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