Worldwide, there are 1.2 billion young women and men between the ages of 15 and 24, 85 per cent of whom live in developing countries, often in rural areas. IFAD’s project portfolio includes a number of activities that focus explicitly on supporting rural youth, such as the establishment of young farmer clubs in Cambodia, business training in Vietnam and on Fiji, a youth employment programme in India, and a young professional programme in Afghanistan, if we look at the Asia and Pacific Region. Large portions of the population in IFAD’s partner countries are in the youth demographic – in Bangladesh the median age is 23.9 years, and in India half of the population is below 24 - making young women and men an important target group in all IFAD-supported projects.
Creating employment by supporting entrepreneurship: Young people often are confronted with a jobless market but have ideas for their own businesses. To give them the funds and capacity needed to turn these ideas into reality, the Finance for Enterprise Development and Employment Creation (FEDEC) project that is working in all areas of Bangladesh provided women and men with access to micro-entrepreneur loans as well as training on business management and technology aspects. Loans averaging USD 1000 supported a broad variety of businesses, ranging from producing cooking tools made of recycled aluminum, to producing clothes, to food processing. Worth noting is that an average of 1.5 additional jobs were created for every entrepreneur supported with a loan. So supporting small entrepreneurs with financial resources and capacity creates new opportunities and perspectives for others as well.
- Changing the mind-sets: Most rural youth are involved in agriculture, or as Felicity Procter, International Development Expert, put it in her presentation last week: “For many millions of rural youth there is no other alternative other than a livelihood in agriculture.” However, many do not perceive farming as a sufficient means to support themselves. The Rural Enterprise Development Component under the Market and Infrastructure Development Project in Charland Regions (MIDPCR) supported smallholders in turning their farming into a business, bringing in new technologies and increasing their incomes. Following a systematic approach to value chain development, the project brought relevant actors (suppliers, producers, buyers, regulators) together before the actual crop production started, which allowed young farmers to identify market demand, input shortages and technical assistance needs. Through these meetings and workshops, farmers strengthened their linkage with private sector actors and adjusted their production to market needs. In addition, farmers participated in marketing workshops where they learned to approach farming as a business undertaking, including the nuts and bolts of bookkeeping, market analysis and marketing. Young farmers who had encountered technical issues that kept them from increasing their production or adjusting to market demand received targeted technical training in new technologies and production methods from private sector partners . After three years of implementation, the income of participating farmers had increased by up to 300 per cent.
- IFAD needs to continue creating opportunities in rural areas, so that young people can and will want to stay and work there. This includes providing funds and capacity building for small businesses, and making farming more profitable.
- When working with youth, it is crucial to know your audience. There is not just one rural youth but a diverse group of women and men with different perspectives, expectations, and skills.
- Young women and men should be included in the whole project circle from design to implementation.
- As the two examples above show, there is a need to invest in capacity building that responds to job-market demand and self-employment, enhancing both entrepreneurship and life skills.
- ICTs offer big opportunities in terms of creating access to information, knowledge and markets, be it a market information system in Ghana or a rural radio programme in Bangladesh.