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Train, engage, employ and retain

Rural youth will nourish Africa (and beyond).

I was mesmerized like never before to see the high attention given to “rural youth and employment”, at #CFS44. Rural youth is going to make a big difference in the ways farming is done in the coming years.

Young, innovative and enterprising youths always inspire me, wherever I see them engaged in the agricultural sector and reaping the profit. Alas, I don’t see a plenty of such youths everywhere. Maybe this is just because enough opportunities are not available to them to find agriculture exciting. I have earlier advocated for making agriculture cool for rural youth, by providing access to innovation and entrepreneurial opportunities to them. I was looking for something more on this topic at the CFS side event, “Rural Youth Employment and Entrepreneurship for Food and Nutrition Security”, organized by EU Commission, Germany (Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development).

Often many experts say, “apart from good education and financial services, youth need skills befitting them as rural professions and more opportunities created for them along agricultural value chains”. I was looking for more than what I had already read and heard about rural youth and the challenges they face. To my satisfaction, this session met my expectations, to some extent. 

This side event reviewed the current challenges and opportunities for young women and men mostly in the context of Africa while discussing approaches for promoting employment and entrepreneurship. The intent and some actions of the EU Commission, around which this event was mostly focused is covered in this document.  This event also appeared to be an extension of the discussions during the G20 summit held in Hamburg in July 2017 - and leading up to the EU-Africa summit on youth this November 2017 in Abidjan. The central theme of this Summit is again going to be 'Youth'. The panelists and invited participants agree that the issue of youth has become a key priority for Europe as well as Africa in the context of African demographic trends creating major challenges for young people in terms of migration, security, and employment.

The keynote speaker of the CFS44 side event, Mr Rui Benfica, Lead Economist, Research and Impact Assessment Division of IFAD, mostly based his presentation on two key documents produced this year by the World Bank (here) and IFAD (here). He emphasized that food system transformation should be given high consideration, as technology, food quality control, value chain, food processing and marketing offer more employment opportunities to rural youth. He said agriculture is still the major employer in low and middle-income countries, where a shift to high-value agriculture in response to a shift in demand for high-quality foods can give a much-needed push to youth employment.

For this to happen, there is an obvious need to upgrade the skills of rural youth in the quality enhancing areas of agricultural production and value chains, he elaborated. Citing the example of Hello Tractor in Nigeria, he pointed out that technology has a key role in transforming or modernizing the agriculture sector, which can make agriculture smart enough to attract rural youth. Yes, given the growing passion for ICTs among children and youth, it could be one good way to engage youth in agriculture.

Mr Stefan Schmitz, Commissioner of the “One World No Hunger” Initiative, German Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development (BMZ), mostly spoke about the efforts being made by the German government to make agriculture attractive to youth, especially in Africa. He talked about more proactive collaboration among the donor community as also the governments in different countries to meet successes on matters of youth employment in agriculture.

The key idea I could capture from the speakers in this event is to differentiate between agriculture which is being practiced by choice from that practiced by default. That is, between young people who find themselves in the family calling to farming, and those who consciously choose it. This is important since these two different classes of farmers have different needs, aspirations, and resources and capacities, requiring different strategies. There cannot be a one-size-fits-all strategy, since the context and issues to matter, which are often very different.  I have seen many highly educated and resourceful youth are turning to agriculture out of their own interest. They are self-motivated and seek technical guidance from the rural advisory services. On the other hand, there is a big majority of rural youth who are disenchanted with agriculture and also have limited resources, so need motivation and hand holding.

It was sweet to hear Ms Halatou, a young lady panelist & CEO of Danaya Cereales SARL, who spoke about her experiences in running a family-owned company in Mali which processes grain and rice, focusing on Fonio (a local millet species).  The success stories of young farmers like this kindle hope among the rural youth who can think of doing something meaningful locally rather than migrating to cities. But for this to happen, they need skills and infrastructure coupled with guidance. This is possible only when there is a political will and commitment by the governments in developing countries, noted the panelists.

I feel youth are creative, possess energy and they want to do something more productive locally, but they lack opportunities to utilize the energy and passion they have. We know it well that youth with energy, innovative ideas and entrepreneurial potential mostly leave rural areas due to limited attractive employment opportunities locally. This situation can be reversed for better, if programmes, policies, infrastructure and hand-holding support to take up economic activities can be ensured. Maybe this will happen one day—the sooner the better!

 

This post is part of the live coverage during the 44th Session of the Committee on World Food Security, a social media project supported by GFAR. This post is written by one of the social reporters and represents the author’s views only.

Find the original post by Mahesh Chander on the CFS blog.