Investing in Youth

This article “Investing in youth”, by Courtney Paisley, YPARD, was published in the @FARMLETTER of April 2013, the newsletter of World Farmers’Organisation, p.19.

“The secret of change is to focus all of your energy, not on fighting the old, but on building the new” Socrates

We invest in something to enable it to grow. Yet, in practice, investment is made in our established professionals, our experienced farmers, middle and senior managers and experienced researchers and professionals. While these are all important people to the agricultural sector, in an age where investment is becoming increasingly limited, it can be argued that greater value is made through investment in youth.

The practice of investing in youth in agriculture is still minimal, as there are few youth focused programs and thus, few clear examples of impact. However, the importance of engaging with youth is gaining recognition in agricultural institutions globally as it becomes increasingly evident that there are not enough young people interested in engaging with agricultural development to meet our food security needs.

The importance of investing in youth becomes evident in the face of global youth unemployment rates. The International Labour Organization states that youth are three times more likely to be unemployed than adults and that in developing countries, youth are disproportionately among the working poor. This poses a risk to the stability of many countries with sizeable youth populations as well as adversely impacting the countries’ economic development. There is a possibility of attracting these youth into the agricultural sector, but this possibility cannot be realized without increased investment in both youth and the agricultural sector itself.

While there are several areas ripe for investment youth led capacity development must become the norm in the agricultural sector. Experienced professionals are often those who benefit from capacity development opportunities, as they know where and how to access them and institutions choose to invest in their established staff, providing perks and incentives. Retaining young professionals in institutions is surprisingly not a priority despite the importance of passing on experience and learning. Capacity development strategies must ensure that youth, within the target group are aware of and gain access to these trainings. It is the least experienced who benefit most from capacity development and thus, their presence should be assured.

The needs of youth, as a key target group, are rarely taken into account when developing capacity development programs. A study by YPARD provided young professionals the opportunity to voice those skills and competencies that they felt were important in early career development, but which were absent or insufficient in their education. Those that came out strongly included communication skills, business and entrepreneurship skills. Capacity development organizations must take the opinions and needs of youth into consideration when developing their programs of work.

Many capacity development initiatives that do target young professionals often provide a strong emphasis on entrepreneurship in an effort to address high youth unemployment. However, these cannot be successful without increased access to funding for youth. Youth often do not have the assets required to leverage funds required for start-ups and the purchase of land for farming. These are largely policy issues and investment is required to change these policies to take a serious and comprehensive approach to creating a youth-supportive policy environment.

This is just the beginning. Once we target these areas we can begin to look at a value chain approach that can provide better remuneration for youth entering into the sector – a key way to begin to increase the attractiveness of youth in agriculture. A comprehensive strategy bringing together several areas are required to create a supportive environment for youth to thrive in the agricultural sector. And critically, in developing this strategy it is imperative that youth are involved. An agriculture sector able to meet the world’s needs without depleting its resources will only become a reality if young professionals are actively engaged in shaping the sector’s future.