What Works in Youth and Agriculture, Food Security, and Nutrition
Given the growing youth populations in sub-Saharan Africa and the state of economic livelihoods in the region, the agriculture sector — and particularly on-farm production — offers great potential for alleviating unemployment and underemployment in Sub-Saharan Africa. In the near term, self-employment in the informal sector will likely present the greatest opportunity for generating youth employment, particularly in low-income countries.
Young men and women are engaged in the agri-food system in a variety of ways — through formal and informal wage work, unpaid family labor, self-employment, and cooperative membership — and across all levels of the value chain. Overall, youth earn “mixed livelihoods” from various sources — on-farm, off-farm, and non-farm — and with self-employment and migration playing particularly important roles. While there is some evidence that youth are not attracted to agriculture and are leaving the sector, the absolute numbers of youth who are dependent on farming or livestock production is likely to increase because of population growth. Youth tend to favor modern agriculture practices, use of technology, and opportunities for “quick money” with relatively higher returns than staple crops. Youth decisions to engage in agriculture work are also shaped by the environment in which they live: the economic and political context, social norms and customs, the nature of the agri-food system, institutions, laws and regulations, parental and peer influence, media, previous experiences, and gender relations.
Overall, the literature consistently agrees that the top three key constraints to youth engagement in agriculture are access to land, finance, and skills. While there is some debate about whether these structural barriers are specific to youth (as older populations are marginalized in the same ways), youth- and gender-specific issues appear in each of these areas. In terms of solutions, skills development initiatives have been shown to have positive impacts on youth employment and earnings outcomes; skills transfer in the agriculture sector has effectively occurred in work-based learning venues such as farmer field schools, on-site employer-based training, internships, volunteer opportunities, and co-curricular youth organizations. In finance, effective interventions have promoted the bankability of youth enterprises, financial literacy and savings among youth, and the capacity of loan officers. Promising youth and land interventions have strengthened youth organizations and participation in land policymaking processes, supported education and awareness-raising activities for youth to understand their land rights, and strengthened youth access to legal services to recognize and defend land rights.
Youth and agriculture programming presents a unique opportunity for gender transformation, as adolescence is a pivotal time of life in which young men and women form gender norms. While there is a growing body of work on women’s empowerment in agri-food systems, the literature generally does not distinguish between different age cohorts or life stages (e.g. head of household, child/parental status, marital status, etc.). Also, women’s empowerment approaches tend to overlook the needs of and pressures faced by adolescent males who are coming of age in the agriculture sector.
Drawing from this evidence base, future research must acknowledge the diversity of different youth segments and their interactions in the agri-food system. There is also a need for comparative analysis of youth-inclusive interventions against traditional agriculture approaches so as to better understand the benefits of a youth-inclusive approach. Finally, policymakers must avoid a one-size-fits-all solution by distinguishing between long-term approaches (employment through on-farm productivity) and short-term approaches (youth self-employment and entrepreneurship), as well as “demand-side” versus “supply-side” solutions, tailored to the specific context of the country and its agri-food system, the local context and its stakeholders, and the target youth segments.
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