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Opinion: Environment, Market Access

Fueling Economic Growth and Stability by Creating Opportunities for Youth in Agriculture

Heidi Graves Heidi Graves

Africa’s youth population is growing, while demand for global agriculture production is continuing to rise. Heidi Graves, Communications Officer for Cultivating New Frontiers in Agriculture (CNFA) blogs from the Chicago Council’s 2018 Food Security Symposium.

The world’s youth population is steadily rising. 2.3 billion people—a third of the world’s population—are between the ages of 15 and 34. And it is projected to keep growing. Yet, many of today’s youth, particularly in low- and middle-income countries (LMICs) are met with the same reality: unemployment. Faced with a lack of opportunity, youth unemployment can stagnate economic growth and fuel political and social unrest.

Amid this rapid increase in the number of youth, known as the “youth bulge,” a new report by the Chicago Council on Global Affairs puts the connection between youth and agriculture at the forefront of the discussion surrounding food security. Why? Many of the regions experiencing the largest growth in the youth population are also the most susceptible to food insecurity. Launched at the Council’s two-day Global Food Security Symposium in Washington DC, the report – Youth for Growth: Transforming Economies through Agriculture – highlights that investing in agricultural development and harnessing the potential of youth is essential to alleviating poverty, addressing food security, and ensuring stability worldwide.

“Youth can be the force that propels whole nations toward food security and prosperity,” said Ivo Daalder, President of the Chicago Council on Global Affairs in his opening remarks for the 2018 Global Food Security Symposium. Creating opportunities for youth in agricultural value chains is essential for increasing food production and promoting youth employment. But how do we cultivate the next generation of prosperous young farmers?

Empowering Youth to Act as Key Contributors in their Communities

While a number of rural youth are migrating to urban centers, the majority remain in rural areas. These youths often lack the technical and business skills required to identify and take advantage of opportunities in their communities. The authors of this report assert that “with proactive programs, innovations, and investment that can meet food and nutrition security goals and support job growth, a booming youth population has the potential to transform entire regions, making them more prosperous, stable, and secure.”

CNFA is one organization that recognizes that building youth capacity is central to the long-term development of the agricultural sector. In Guinea, CNFA is working to address high youth unemployment rates and skills gaps through the USAID-funded Strengthening Agricultural Value Chains and Youth (SAVY) project, which aims to increase smallholder farmers’ revenue by improving input supply services, and boosting credit and agricultural output markets for rice, horticulture and livestock. At the core of this effort is a training program designed to develop entrepreneurship skills in 330 young ambitious Guineans to become successful entrepreneurs and change agents in a competitive agricultural sector, characterized by strong, market-driven value chains, inclusive economic growth, and improved nutritional outcomes. Through this program, youth participants engage in four weeks of initial training before progressing to nine months of mentoring and on-the-job training with a host organization in the agricultural value chain (input supplier, agribusinesses and others), and wrap up the program with a two-week capstone training.

Aboubacar Sylla, a youth in Friguiagbe, Guinea, always wanted to become a pineapple producer but lacked the skills to launch his own agribusiness. After participating in the SAVY training program, he was placed with N’Fasory Soumah, one of the largest producers of pineapple in the area to gain on-the-ground experience. “There are things that you only get to know when you have hands-on experience. I learned quite a lot in terms of pineapple production with my host,” he said.

Such rural youth, like Aboubacar, hold the key to the region’s future economic growth and success. During one of the Symposium’s discussion, “Designing the Youth Inclusive Transformation Agenda,” Linda Kwamboka, Co-founder and Director of M-Farm, asserted that mentorship is essential for the success of young entrepreneurs in agriculture. By providing youth with the skills to take advantage of opportunities and making agricultural employment more appealing, mentors can help rural youth to empower themselves economically as well as to become role models for other youth. Amie Alexander, a farmer and policy expert, later affirmed during the discussion on “Connecting Local to Global: A Catalyst for Improving Livelihoods,” that “successful youth programs show young people that there are opportunities for them.”

Linking Youth Opportunities to US Economic and National Security Interests

Youth who lack economic opportunities are more likely to heed the call of radical elements in society— particularly related to extremism and migration, as the report points out. Since the economies of countries most at risk tend to rely upon agriculture, increasing agricultural productivity and creating jobs across the sector is essential for boosting incomes and creating opportunities for youth which will advance stability in regions where the United States has economic and security interests. “If America invests in these young people, it’s essentially investing in its own future,” said Felix Kwame Yeboah, one of the authors of the report and Assistant Professor, International Development at Michigan State University during his panel discussion.

Moving the Agenda Forward

The report has four key recommendations:

  1. Commit to a long-term, global food and nutrition strategy;
  2. Revitalize and recommit to robust support for public-sector agricultural research and development with an emphasis on needs for the next agricultural transformation;
  3. Invest in the human capital development necessary to advance rural youth and to drive agricultural transformation; and
  4. Align programs that foster an enabling environment for businesses in strategic countries. This environment should be specifically geared toward businesses that generate high-quality jobs for youth and new youth-led ventures.

One theme that stood at the forefront of discussions over the course of the two days at the Symposium is that advancing youth livelihoods and addressing food insecurity, and implementing the recommendations listed above, cannot be achieved by one actor or sector alone. Howarth “Howdy” E. Bouis of HarvestPlus said it best on Day 1, “we have to get people in all different sectors to realize that everything is interconnected.”

The report acknowledges that addressing such issues requires collaboration between the US government, the private sector, national governments and civil society. Youth are also a key part of this decision-making process. As Ariane Campbell of the MasterCard Foundation said, “Youth need to be treated as full partners in development, both in developing solutions and in giving feedback.”

Interested in learning more about the career opportunities for youth in agriculture? Visit Farming First’s #IamAg campaign page.

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