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Eradicating youth poverty through agricultural production? The role of foresight

Empowering young people through their own visionsGetting rid of extreme poverty and hunger have always been at the centre of the global development goals. These goals appeared as number one on the list of the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) – the precursor of the current Sustainable Development goals (SDGs). On the SDGs list, they are number 1 and 2 among the issues the global community is committed to unravel by the year 2030, showing their unrelenting importance.

Currently, young people make up more than half of the population of the world – and even up to 70% of the population in some regions. If this vital demographic of the world population is not sufficiently empowered to contribute to and benefit from these objectives then, the lofty ideals of these goals may remain a mirage and the limited achievements, if any, may be unsustainable.

Despite their huge numbers, youth in many countries lack the ability to be involved meaningfully in decision making processes and outcomes. This situation becomes even worse if they are rural youth and/or women. Consequently, this has contributed, in no small measure, to the inability of youth in many regions to access resources that can enable them to find or create a job, improve their livelihoods and thus tackle poverty.

In this context, the theme of this year’s International Youth Day – The Road to 2030: Eradicating Poverty and Achieving Sustainable Production and Consumption – allows for a timely focus on how the youth  are envisioning and contributing to sustainable agricultural production and consumption as a long term response to poverty.

Empowering youth to reduce poverty and improve sustainability

Eliminating poverty and improving sustainable agricultural production requires the empowerment of the youth. In so doing, they will be able to take up potential opportunities especially in agricultural production to enhance their livelihoods. As such, this form of empowerment will not be the kind where youth, particularly rural youth, are treated as passive recipient of support, but rather as a dynamic group  able to help themselves, provided they have access to a more inclusive decision making space and access to vital resources like  land, financing etc.

Youth need to be empowered in building a vision for their future, where sustainable production and consumption with reduced food waste and malnutrition could be an  answer in tackling poverty on a long term. Furthermore, they need to be equipped with appropriate decision making tools, learning opportunities and other support to be able to actualise this future.

Youth-friendly and future-smart agricultural production

For many countries, improving agricultural production still remains the most viable means to lift many out of poverty. With a rising global population and expanding urban centres, which increasingly rely on food supplies from rural areas, agriculture remains vital as a sector and a business, and will continue to remain so in the coming years or decades. Besides, an improving connectivity between urban and rural areas is fostering positive synergies through access to markets and creating other opportunities.

However, working to empower youth to take up these opportunities will involve understanding what kind of agriculture they want to practice, how they want to practice it, where, how these will meet their needs on a long term; then tailoring support to fit these realities.

For many young people, their vision of sustainable agriculture, is that in which they are able to employ new technologies and reduce drudgery, while – perhaps more importantly – being profitable and earning the respect of their peers (or society) for what they do; for others it may be about getting back to core values and a way of life closer to nature, ensuring health and respect for the environment.

Leveraging on these youth aspirations and providing relevant support for their actualisation can have lasting impact on the drive towards achieving poverty reduction and sustainable agricultural production.

What role for foresight?

As said earlier, one of the viable ways to ensure youth inclusion in sustainable agricultural production and one that helps tackle poverty, is to seek and recognize young people’s vision of their own future. This will include understanding the aspirations of youth and empowering them with appropriate approaches and tools so that they are able to make their own decisions and take actions Today.This requires a participatory decision making tool; it requires foresight.

Foresight is an approach that helps to anticipate the future by considering it through different scenarios collaboratively with a group of stakeholders. It tries to solve critical problems by integrating the perspectives of diverse stakeholders so that important issues around the problems are seen through various lenses or perspectives. This capacity to look at, and analyse, possible future scenarios enables us to take the right decisions in the present which will influence the future as we envision it.

As a problem solving approach, foresight and the system analytical tools it employs can help to better understand trends and forces driving critical issues like poverty and sustainable food production and how they affect youth (e.g. lack of access to production resources and capacity due to non-inclusive decision making spaces and institutions).

Furthermore, by helping us to understand how the various driving forces interact, foresight can enable us to identify the plausible futures of sustainable agricultural production and consumption, its influence on tackling poverty, and the role of youth in them.

In essence, by adopting foresight approches, the youth of today and their supporters can make decisions and actions that are based on the knowledge of a shared and desired future and current forces and trends to influence in order to get that future.This ensures that decisions made are future-smart, participatory, rigorous, robust, and, they take into account potential disruptions to existing systems.

Lastly, through its inclusive approach that takes on board the perspective of all stakeholders including youth, foresight approaches help the new generation to increase confidence in their capacity to actively contribute to building the future. This is one of the very important condition to get them fully involved in eradicating poverty and achieving the SDGs by 2030. It is thus imperative that youth and other stakeholders working to improve youth livelihoods use this approach to address youth issues – including poverty – in a more sustainable way.

This blog post was published at the occasion of the International Youth Day 2016, focusing on the leading role of young people in ensuring poverty eradication and achieving sustainable development through sustainable consumption and production. Join the discussions via ‪#‎Youth2030‬ ‪#‎YouthDay‬ ‪#‎RuralYouth‬ or through the comment section below. 

The author of this blogpost, Oluwabunmi Ajilore, is the YPARD's Foresight Ambassador. He has particularly been thoroughly involved in GFAR's foresight activities. Learn more about what Foresight is and why young people embracing this approach can make a difference through Bunmi's previous posts and articles: Youth Foresight for their future and The future belongs to the youth

Picture credit: Daisy Ouya (ICRAF)