Report: Developing the Knowledge, Skills and Talent of Youth to Further Food Security and Nutrition, August 2016
The landscape surrounding agriculture has undergone significant changes in recent years. Higher food prices, the consequent world food price crisis in the late 2000s, along with a projected 60 percent expansion in demand for agricultural products by 2050, has driven a resurgent interest in the sector – among policy-makers, development practitioners, and private actors. As rural and agricultural markets are transforming, with higher demand and prices, more integrated supply chains, greater rural-urban connectivity in many areas and exponential growth in urban markets, new opportunities are emerging for young people to start up and run profitable agrobusinesses. To do this, however, they need a range of skills and knowledge – agricultural, financial, entrepreneurial – as well as a broader environment of youth targeted policies and investments.
These trends are of particular significance when viewed in the context of burgeoning youth populations in many of today’s developing countries and regions. Children under the age of 15 account for around a quarter of the population in developing countries1 while youth2 comprise up to a further one fifth of the population in many of these countries.3 In Africa, the demographic structure is particularly youthful, with over 60 percent of the population currently below the age of 25.4 A large proportion of these young people live and work in rural towns and settlements. It is significant that even under the most optimistic scenarios there are doubts about the potential of the urban sector to absorb these young people into wage-earning employment. Clearly, the role of agriculture – and smallholder family farming in particular – in providing decent livelihood opportunities for rural youth in the years ahead will be an important one. At the same time, the majority of youth do not currently see agriculture as a viable career path given the low productivity rates and the difficulties they know previous generations have faced. If smallholders cannot achieve a viable income, it is likely that their children and their children’s children will head for the cities. Developing the knowledge, skills, and talent of youth will also require investing in smallholder agriculture in order to provide successful examples and viable livelihoods for all future generations.
The potential returns of capturing the opportunity to engage today’s young people in the challenge of raising agricultural production by 60 percent by 2050 – in terms of food security, poverty reduction, employment generation, as well as peace and political stability – are enormous, but so too are the challenges. Key natural resources, biodiversity and ecosystems upon which agriculture is reliant have been degraded or lost – in some cases irreversibly. Meanwhile, climate change is already leaving its mark on rural landscapes, and will do so on a much greater scale in years to come. At the same time, in some regions rural-urban connectivity remains poor, particularly in terms of infrastructure, but so do the services and institutions required to facilitate flows of goods, information, money and people. These gaps can increase the transaction costs associated with investing in agriculture, or in financial institutions operating in rural areas. These realities all call for specific responses at the policy level in order to create an environment where the potential and talent of young people can be used as an engine to drive change in agriculture and food systems that can provide food security and nutrition for everyone.
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