USAID's Youth in Development Policy: A Timely Opportunity to Rethink Rural and Agricultural Programming

Making Cents International

We applaud USAID’s new Youth Policy for recognizing the central role that youth should play in development strategies.  Turning this policy into action at the mission and programmatic level is our next challenge.  USAID Feed the Future and rural development initiatives in particular should consider how youth can be better integrated into strategies and specific program design. 

We understand that changing processes in ongoing or future programs will not be an easy feat.  However, there are concrete steps that USAID can take with its partners to implement this policy at the mission level:

  1. Clarify the role of youth in Feed the Future Initiatives.  From the first wave of Feed the Future projects, we observe that Missions have lacked clear guidance about the level of importance and timing of youth integration, which has led to contradictory messages to implementing partners.  For example, should programs that focus on the commercialization of agriculture include youth immediately or as a longer term goal?  How important is integrating youth in comparison to other programmatic outputs? Clarifying these issues will help missions and implementers to address youth issues, while meeting other key objectives.
  2. Develop meaningful evaluation parameters.  Current programs often set arbitrary targets around youth integration; with little guidance in terms of how to achieve those. Specific numerical targets (e.g. 30% youth beneficiaries) are a start. Further work is necessary to develop indicators that can disaggregate youth between different cohorts and represent meaningful participation, complemented by guidance for how missions will establish appropriate targets.
  3. Share good practices about integrating and engaging youth.  Implementers are learning how to change the attitudes of youth toward agriculture, as well as the attitudes of other agricultural value chain actors toward youth; when and how to engage young farmers at the group level vs. when they should be targeted with interventions at the individual level as entrepreneurs; and to engage lead firms on strategies for incorporating youth in their supply chains.   The policy tells us “why” youth are important in development, exchanging good practices in these areas among partners and mission staff will move us all further towards answering “how” we can do so effectively.
  4. Consider broader issues with respect to youth as they relate to agriculture. There are often trade-offs associated with encouraging youth to integrate more fully into the agricultural sector:
  • How do Missions strike a balance between presenting agriculture as a legitimate career choice for young people; and recognizing that there might be other, more profitable opportunities either via other rural livelihoods or by migrating to an urban area?
  • Should the stemming of rural-urban migration be a project goal; or should youth be encouraged to move freely in search of economic networks that better serve their needs?

Engaging youth in agriculture and rural markets presents both a critical challenge and important opportunity for USAID.  The Youth policy represents an important step in recognizing this challenge; we now look forward to working with USAID and its missions to meet it.