Highlights from USAID Agrilinks #AskAg Twitter Chat

Making Cents International

On June 13, I represented Making Cents at the USAID Agrilinks #AskAg Twitter chat on youth employment in agriculture. Alongside rural, agriculture, and youth experts from USAID, Winrock International,and the International Food Policy Research Institute, a number of other participants from the Twittersphere contributed to a lively discussion on youth and their role in agriculture. In addition to the guiding questions we prepared in advance, we tackled a series of challenging, yet very relevant, questions from around the world, many informed by direct experience in the field.

While we might not have solved any global issues in that hour and thirty minutes, it did allow us to identify issues and trends that the youth economic opportunities sector will be challenged with in the coming years. The following are some themes, questions, and thoughts that were brought up during the Twitter chat that I think merit highlighting:

  • How can programs spark youth interest in agriculture? While a large number of youth are extremely interested in running a business, few wish to pursue a career in agriculture. The challenge is to remove that distinction by re-framing farming as a business, focusing on opportunities across the entire value chain, and looking for natural entry of ICTs into agriculture.

@agrilinks Urban youth consider agric as a job for rural youth (male) who fail to complete school. #AskAg — Erasmus Mweene (@ErasmusMweene)

@agrilinks, youth smallholder producers are attracted to upgraded niche products with higher margins and shorter production cycles #AskAg   — Rachel Blum (@rrblum)

  • Skillsets are becoming a barrier to youth engagement in agricultural value chains. How do we identify and build up the skills youth need to participate in agriculture?

 #askag In #Africa, most #rural#youth don't have elementary ed: need for literacy, numeracy, ability to use #IT — ifpri (@ifpri) 

@christyolenik #askag financial literacy/business; life skills & understanding value & supply chain are key but also new techologies & coop — Carol Olaughlin (@cbmo46) 

  • Assets, particularly land, are a major barrier as well. The difficulty with land tenure and titling in developing countries is a challenge for all agriculture stakeholders. How does this affect youth participation and employment?

#AskAg A6: land redistribution program in #Malawi created access 2 land 4 young pppl & offered small start-up grants bit.ly/11roDmr — ifpri (@ifpri)

  • How can we increase and improve young women and girls’ involvement in agriculture?

#askaf #4 girls/women need exposure to math/sciene, contact with business women/models, safe spaces, savings & asset dev, life skills — Carol Olaughlin (@cbmo46) 

#AskAg mentoring especially important for young women's participation along the ag value chain — Rachel Blum (@rrblum)

  • Finally, youth bring new assets to agriculture – familiarity with ICTs, energy, and ability to quickly adapt to market changes. How can we capitalize on these assets?

#AskAg Q5: @agrilinks innovative, responsive to change. Their opinions should be considered & respected in addressing new challenges of agri. — Kristyn NanlalKhetia (@kaenkay)

#AskAg A5 #Youth often willing to try new things (ie switching from traditional crops to more profitable options) that older farmers aren’t.— David Feige (@DavidFeigeAg)

Despite the numerous challenges that presented themselves during the chat, a consensus appears to be emerging around some common lessons we’ve learned about how youth can better be engaged in agriculture. Participants recognized agriculture as a valuable source of youth employment in rural areas; although young people’s aspirations are generally more consistent with post-harvest and off-farm opportunities than on-farm activities.  Sustainable integration of young people into agriculture will only happen when value chain actors recognize that young people bring important attitudes, energy, and skills important for upgrading value chains; and that youth inclusion and value chain competitiveness are not mutually exclusive goals but can in fact be mutually reinforcing.