Enhancing youth engagement in agricultural careers

Bangladesh trainees

The 12th August marked this year’s International Youth Day with a theme of Youth Civic Engagement.  The aim of the day was to promote civic engagement and participation of youth in politics and public life, so that young people can be empowered and make a full contribution to society, development and peace.

Engaging youth in society is essential for youth employment and in rural communities there is a worrying trend towards young people becoming disenchanted with agricultural careers which, in developing countries, still provide the main source of income.   A major causal factor is the movement out of rural areas to the cities.  For the first time ever the majority of the world’s people now live in urban areas.  The urban population in 2014 accounted for 54% of the total global population (WHO data).  Urbanization appears to be part of the intrinsic development process, with lower income countries having the greatest percentage of the population living in rural areas (although these counties are also urbanizing at a faster rate). Furthermore, rural areas are themselves diversifying. In almost all rural areas of the developing world, households draw on multiple activities inside and outside agriculture.

So, what is driving youths away from agricultural careers and how can we seek to correct this? A recent report by the International Labour Organisation Youth and Rural Development: Evidence from 25 school-to-work transition surveys in partnership with The MasterCard Foundation compares and contrasts the transition from education to employment of more than 90,000 young people living in rural and urban areas across 25 countries, including 8 in Sub-Saharan Africa.    The report shows that in many countries – especially the low-income countries- rural youth face considerable challenges across the whole transition.  Education and training are difficult to access, skills are poorly matched to jobs and employment is precarious, low paid and often informal.  Across all 25 countries, in rural areas, more than 50% of young workers are classified as being in vulnerable or casual employment and the situation is particularly stark in Sub-Saharan Africa.

So what can and is being done already to improve employment opportunities in rural areas, particularly in the agricultural sector?

Greater investment in education and training

Few students choose to study agriculture, and often the presence of farming on the school curricula is limited.  There needs to be greater investment in education and training from primary through to tertiary levels, and teaching needs to take account of advancements in technology, foster innovation and be of relevance to the evolving agricultural sector.  Alongside improving education, more needs to be done to change young peoples’ perception of agriculture as a potential career.  A project initiated by Farm Africa supports youth groups to establish and manage agricultural businesses, helping them discover more about agriculture as a profession.  Whilst, in the Philippines the infomediary Campaign is an initiative developed by the Philippine Rice Research Institute to more deeply engage young people in rice agriculture through a variety of online and offline platforms.  In Brazil, the National Rural Learning Service (SENAR) established in 1991 by the Brazilian Confederation of Agriculture and Livestock (CNA) provides professional training for the whole rural community, from teaching in schools to practical classes in the field (for further information on SENAR see the 2014 CNA Sustainability Report).

Give young farmers a voice

If we want more young people to consider agriculture as a career, we need to give the young farmers already out there the opportunity to offer their opinion and talk about their experiences, showing others that agriculture can be a worthwhile and rewarding career. Furthermore, we should offer the opportunity for young farmers to influence farming policies at both the local and national level to help identify and address barriers to engagement.  One example is the Young Professionals for Agricultural Development network, which provides a platform where young people can discuss agricultural development, share information, contribute to policy debates and access resources.

Financial investment and sectoral development

The agricultural sector needs to see significant development and investment across the whole breadth to raise growth, productivity and labour demand; technological change and improvements in infrastructure are essential.  A key step here is recognising farms as agribusinesses, considering not only the farm but also the industry and services.  Inevitably, this may count towards the trend of ‘de-agrarization’.   Therefore, the promotion of the non-farm economy is also increasingly being recognized as a driver of economic growth and a source of opportunities for young rural people. Countries should look to Brazil, where agribusiness has blossomed due to strategic investment in technology and innovation.  Brazil is now the second largest exporter of agricultural products in the world and according to the CNA the sector accounts for 22.4% of GDP, 37% of all exports and 1/3 of all jobs.

Tackle employment instability and poor working conditions

As detailed in the ILO’s 2014 World of Work Report economic growth is key to development, but on its own, it’s not enough. Policies are needed to ensure that all society benefits from economic growth, from rules and practices in the workplace through to social protection to guarantee secure income and access to health care for the whole population.

Support innovation and entrepreneurship

Young people can help introduce new technologies into the farming business, offering efficiency improvements.  Furthermore, it will help them see beyond the stereotype of traditional farming, showing that it can be a dynamic career choice.  Financial assistance is still hard to come by for poor families in rural areas, although there are now some schemes emerging.  For example, the United Nations Capital Development Fund provides grants, loans and technical support to ensure that more households and small business gain access to financial service, and in Malaysia the My Kampung My Future (MKMF) programme, funded by the Ministry of Agriculture and Agro-Based Industry, is a government initiative which aims to proliferate youth participation in economic activities in rural areas.   A 2014 report Small and Growing Entrepreneurship in African Agriculture from the Montpellier Panel argues that investment in rural entrepreneurship, especially amongst Africa’s youth population, could be transformative for Africa’s rural and urban economic growth. They advocate appropriate business training, adequate and easy access to financing for starting and growing enterprises and a strong enabling environment to let businesses prosper.

Utilise social media

The prominence of social media in today’s society could be capitalised upon as both a tool for education and a route to improve the image of agriculture as a career (see CGIAR Thrive Blog July 2013). Mobile phone usage in the developing word is expanding rapidly, giving greater access to sources of information and to each other.  Utilising social media and other web based platforms to educate young people and promote agricultural careers could recruit more into the sector and serve as an excellent route to sharing information between young farmers.  For example, e-agriculture is a global community that are working to improve and expand the use of information and communication technologies (ICT) for sustainable agriculture and rural development.

Importantly, and revisiting the theme of Youth Civic Engagement, farming offers the younger generation a chance to make a difference, not only in their local communities, but on a global scale, by playing their part in alleviating world hunger and malnutrition and helping to achieve global development.

Further information is available to subscribers of CAB Direct, with over 400 records on youth labour and employment.

Learn more about International Youth Day and the events that took place, or read the Twitter feed #YouthDay.

Further reading:

The ILO Rural Policy Briefs http://www.ilo.org/employment/units/rural-development/WCMS_158637/lang–en/index.htm

International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD). 2010. Rural poverty report 2011 (Rome) http://www.ifad.org/rpr2011/

Sparreboom, T.; Staneva, A. 2014. Is education the solution to decent work for youth in developing economies: Identifying qualifications mismatch from 28 school-to-work transition surveys, Work4Youth Publication Series No. 23 (Geneva, ILO) http://www.un.org/youthenvoy/wp-content/uploads/2014/10/Work4Youth-Publication.pdf

Yumkella, K.K.; Kormawa, P.M.; Roepstorff, T.M.; Hawkins, A.M (eds). 2011. Agribusiness for Africa’s prosperity (Vienna, United Nations Industrial Development Organization). http://www.unido.org/en/resources/publications/poverty-reduction-through-productive-activities/agribusiness-and-rural-entrepreneurship/agribusiness-for-africas-prosperity.html

PwC. 2013. Agribusiness in Brazil: an Overview. PricewaterhouseCoopers Brasil Ltda. http://www.pwc.com.br/pt/publicacoes/setores-atividade/assets/agribusiness/agribusiness-tsp-13.pdf

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One thought on “Enhancing youth engagement in agricultural careers

  1. lornah July 3, 2017 / 7:17 am

    Great post. Agriculture being the backbone of any given county, their economy will grow if food production is facilitated. Thank you for sharing.

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