International Youth Day is a reminder of youth’s role in agriculture, development and peace

Africa's large and growing youth population will shape the future of agriculture on the continent. Photo Credit: P. Casier (CGIAR)
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Aug 12, 2017


Kathlee Freeman (CCAFS)

In recognition of International Youth Day, we summarize the online discussion about youth engagement in Africa's agriculture sector, including the essential role of young people in the future of agriculture, rural development, and peace. 

International Youth Day, held annually on August 12, celebrates the contributions of young people to a peaceful world through conflict resolution and prevention. It also recognizes the vital role young people have in social justice, inclusivity, and sustainable peace measures.

In the context of Africa, where the population is exceptionally young and growing, what role do youth have in agriculture in creating peaceful communities?  Populations without access to dependable livelihoods are often targeted for inclusion in conflict or illegal activities, making rural development a key component of peace. In the same way, climate change also threatens to destabilize rural communities by making it harder to farm, reducing food security and making it more difficult to earn a living. Clashes over natural resources will increase as communities struggle to adapt to erratic weather patterns.  

Climate change adaptation actions that can help rural African communities cope with climate impacts and reduce agriculture’s contribution towards greenhouse gas emissions, it must also include Africa’s youth.  As of 2015, an estimated 226 million people on the African continent were between the ages of 15-24, with the youth population expected to increase by 42 percent by 2030. The youth unemployment rate is high across the continent, standing at 12 percent across Sub-Saharan Africa, with large variances between countries. Even worse, the youth working poverty rate in Sub-Saharan Africa stands at a startling 70 percent.

With the youngest population in the world, huge opportunities exists to engage millions of youth in transforming Africa's agriculture. 

While agriculture remains the main livelihood strategy and the largest employment sector, it is overlooked by young people for a number of reasons including lack of resurces, inability to access credit and information and negative perceptions surrounding farming such as ‘agriculture is not glamorous’. This presents youth farmers with challenges that need to be addressed.  How can agriculture be made into an attractive option for Africa’s burgeoning youth population? And What challenges to young farmers face?

Between July 12 and August 12, the online discussion “Engaging African Youth in Agribusiness in a Changing Climate,” posed the above questions to various stakeholders.

Beginning with the challenges young people face, discussion participants noted the lack of experience, limited financial resources, and stiff competition by more experienced farmers and business people. One discussant spoke to “intergenerational injustices” in Nigeria in which young people are excluded from active positions within the community. Participants also noted that agriculture-based incomes are often low and acquiring land is an expensive process, especially for those with limited access to credit.

Another commentator suggested beginning with education and addressing the negative stereotypes associated with pursing an agricultural education. For those students that do pursue an agriculture-related degree, the skills they learn in the classroom often do not translate into real-world farm and business operations.    

Climate change also poses a number of problems for young farmers. “Climate change hasn’t come with too many positive effects, if there are any at all,” says one participant. Erratic rainfall, soil degradation, and increased incidents of extreme weather events, all side effects of climate change, threaten agriculture-based businesses.   

Another discussant argued against encouraging all young people to consider agriculture careers. Instead, we should focus on “capacity building efforts and resources on youth that have already made the choice to engage in agribusiness.”

A number of commentators advocated for harnessing young people’s energy and innovative ideas. Precision agriculture technologies using techniques such as geographic information systems (GIS), could also be used by young people to increase productivity and protect the environment through “judicious use of inputs.”

The CCAFS gender and social inclusion flagship integrates youth into its research agenda - identifying, prioritizing and targeting climate-smart agriculture (CSA) technologies and practices appropriate for the youth. CSA will help mitigate the impacts of climate and, in the long run, mitigate conflict-induced food shortages. 

Linking agribusinesses to formal domestic and international markets can make agriculture a more lucrative process for young farmers. Moving beyond just crop production towards value-added agriculture products can also help young people get employment and remain competitive in the sector. Finally, policies that foster these links and support positive entrepreneurial environments (such as information and communication technologies, financial resources, and knowledge and skills) can also make agriculture profitable and appealing to young people. 

Although the online discussion will end on August 12, these conversations must remain ongoing in fields, classrooms, and boardrooms. We hope you’ll join in celebrating International Youth Day by continuing to engage in dialogue, helping to create agricultural opportunities for young people, and fostering peace in a changing climate. 

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