Linking Youth Empowerment with Agricultural Production and Food Security
The most important sector of any society is constituted by youth. The main source of manpower for socioeconomic development of a country is youth. The youth also play a role as a channel for the transmission of culture. The accurate definition of the youth is difficult. Throughout the last few decades of the twentieth century, a consensus definition of youth can’t be found. Friedman (1971) defines youth as a group of human beings who have reached the age of puberty but haven’t yet acquired the full rights and duties of life. In succeeding years, defining youth as an age group has found more supporters than other definition. However, the definition of youth by age varies (Leavy and Smith 2010), in some countries ranges from 12 to 35 years, yet in other countries as young as 8 years to beyond 35 years. United Nations (UN) defines youth as a group of people between 15 and 24 years, while African Union extends from 15 to 35 years. In addition to age, other defining factors include gender, marital status, education, capacity to engage in labor markets, and independence from senior household members. According to Suttie and Vargas Lundius (2016), youth is a transitional period from childhood to adulthood where new responsibilities and roles are taken.
- Food Security
Food insecurity has many long-term implications for development abilities of families, communities, and countries. Hence food security is very important for individuals and countries. Food security can be defined as “Physical and economic access to sufficient food to meet dietary needs for a productive and healthy life at all times.” Food security comprises four areas: availability of a reliable and consistent source of quality food, access to sufficient economic resources to purchase it, knowledge about the food and its utilization in a way that it results in good nutrition for all family members, and, finally, stability in access and utilization (FAO 2006).
- Empowerment and Youth
Empowerment has been defined differently by researchers. Empowerment has been divided into individual, organizational, and community empowerment. Individual empowerment is a psychological process in which individuals think positively about their ability to make a change and gain mastery over issues at individual and social levels. This includes the notion of self-efficacy, i.e., perceptions of competence, personal control, and positive self-image (Zimmerman 2000). Youth empowerment is defined by Youth Empowerment Solutions (YES) as “the outcome by which youth, as change agents, gain the skills to impact their own lives and lives of other individuals, organizations, and communities.”
Growing Youth Population
We have witnessed great improvements in child mortality and life expectancy. The reductions in child mortality have led to more children surviving into adulthood. The world population tripled from 2.5 to 7.4 billion between 1950 and 2015. In 60 years the population in Asia increased by three billion people. In South Asia and Africa, a large and increasing share of the growing population will be adolescents and young adults. There are 1.8 billion people between 10 and 24 years, and 90% of them live in low- and middle-income countries. The share of population below the age of 25 is over 60% in developing countries, and this is expected to grow. The youth comprises up to 20% of the population of these countries (Proctor and Lucchesi 2012), and it is estimated that by 2050 the number of young people will reach two billion. The largest working age population in the world is from India; each month one million Indians are turning 18 years old (Sengupta 2016). Africa has the youngest population in the world, with 60% below the age of 25 (Jayne et al. 2014), 200 million people between 15 and 24 years of age (African Development Bank 2012), and the most extreme figures for sub-Saharan Africa where the population of youth is expected to triple by 2050 (UNDESA 2013). Around 55% of the youth live in rural areas worldwide; however, in South Asia and sub-Saharan Africa, this figure is as high as 70% (Bennell 2007). Rural youth in these countries continue facing challenges related to poverty, unemployment, or underemployment. Almost 71 million or 13% of the youth is unemployed. Globally, 300 million people are classified as part of the working poor (Vargas-Lundius 2011). Working poor is someone who is employed but is part of a household where each member of the household is living on less than USD 1.25/day. According to estimates of IFAD, young people are more unemployed and working poor than adults, and unemployment and working poverty are more prevalent among rural youth (IFAD 2012).
Global Food Security and Food Production
Food security is closely linked with national security and promotes stability and economic opportunities. Reduced access to food due to higher food prices or shortages can prompt riots and protests that may lead to political and economic instability. For example, the global food crisis of 2007–2008 led to the toppling of governments in Haiti and Madagascar due to food price-related protests (Barbet-Gros and Cuesta 2015). Food insecurity is also the main push factor for migration. Evidence from Central American countries, particularly Honduras, Guatemala, and El Salvador, showed a correlation between food insecurity and migration (Douglas and Glickman 2017). Migration from rural to urban areas causes urban slums, gang violence, and urban unemployment in cities. While, on the othe hand the most productive portion of the agricultural workforce is lost in rural communities and if youth do not return, rural areas suffer from brain drain. Food insecurity negatively affects youth also, like mother and children. Youth can experience poor mental and physical health outcomes, low-quality diets, and lower school attendance due to food insecurity.
Why a Wave of Growing Interests in Keeping Youth in Food Production System?
The world is face-to-face with increasing population, youth unemployment, aging farming population, and increasing demands for sustainable food production. The question is: Can agriculture provide a solution to all these problems? The “youth bulge” if managed properly can help boost their countries’ development. However, if barred from participation in employment, the large populations of youth can be a threatening force for economies on the rise. A large population of young people in developing countries lives and works in rural towns and settlements. There are doubts about the potential of urban sectors to captivate these young people into earning employment. On the other hand, agriculture is the world’s largest job provider, engaging almost 40% of the global workforce. Agriculture also plays an important role in accomplishing global food security, improving economic growth, and achieving environmental stability. In this scenario, a thriving agriculture sector is a silver bullet to address the problem of youth bulge and food security. In addition to food and nutrition security, it offers employment opportunities throughout the supply chains (from farm to food retail). SMEs backbone of the supply chains in developing countries can prove to be a critical source of employment and income for youth.
The transformation of agriculture into more productive, competitive, sustainable, and efficient sectors requires a transfer of modern knowledge and skill to develop talent in agriculture. This means escalating and reorganizing the current agricultural workforce. It means retaining and attracting people with skills. Notably, it means providing incentives that inspire young-skilled people to see agriculture as a career option. Youth offers a significant potential for the agri-food sector. The entrepreneurial talent of the young people is untapped in agriculture. The youth shows 1.6 times more early-stage entrepreneurial intentions and start-up activities in than adults worldwide. A double win could be achieved in the process of making agriculture more youth-friendly by engaging youth in sustainable and climate-smart agriculture.
Agriculture Is Not Cool for Youth
Though the returns of engaging today’s youth in raising agricultural production by 60% by 2050 are mammoth (in terms of food security, employment, poverty reduction, environmental sustainability) so are the challenges. The main natural resources (land, water, biodiversity, ecosystem, etc.) agriculture is dependent upon have been degraded. Climate change is also threatening the sustainability of the rural landscape and already left its marks already. The role of agriculture and family farming in providing livelihood opportunities for rural youth in coming years is undeniable. However, despite the increasing sophistication of the fields of agriculture, food, and nutrition, they are not viewed as attractive by youth in terms of their career choice. Currently, due to low productivity rates and known difficulties faced by previous generations, agriculture is not seen as a viable career path by the majority of the young people. This problem of an unappealing career in agriculture is somehow the same for all the countries in the world. For example, only 3% of the recent American college graduates see agriculture as an option for their careers (Hopkins 2016). Some of the main macro issues related to abstaining youth from agriculture are small landholdings in developing countries, high level of risk attached to agriculture production and marketing, low returns on the investment, discolored image of professional farming, poor infrastructure, lack of access to credit and land, and low level of mechanization and technological backwardness.
Case Study: Rural Youth Participation in Agriculture Activities and Challenges in Nigeria
In a study by Auta et al. (2010) on rural youth participation in agricultural activities, they found that 33.8% of the youth participated in agricultural activities as a means of subsistence, 38.3% because of family tradition, and 29.8% because it gives them financial returns. The majority of the youth (78.7%) reported that lack of capital discouraged them from embarking agriculture, followed by the high cost of input (38%) and low prices of produce (30.5%). A significant proportion (43.5%) of youth reported unavailability of farm inputs in their communities, 38.5% said inputs were occasionally available, and only 2% reported readily availability of the inputs. More than 50% of the youth responded to lack of access to agriculture credit, especially from the banks. Looking at acquirance of land showed that 78% inherited, 8.3% purchased, 7% by lease, and 6% rented. The marketing system in Nigeria is also occupied with problems. Among youth, 59.3% indicated low prices, 375 bad networks, and 13% lack of or poor storage facilities as a major problem in the marketing system. While 77.8% of youth responded that they had access to agricultural information, about 59% reported extension agents as main source of the agricultural information, 39.8% reported radio, and 9.3% reported field day and agricultural shows. In terms of food security, about 30% indicated that they didn’t have enough food stock for the year and faced hunger, while 70% had adequate food stock to feed.
Constraints to Rural Youth Involvement in Agriculture
The average age of the farming population is increasing, as youth is not interested in considering agriculture as a career option. The disinterest of youth in agriculture is the main challenge for the international development community. Currently, the population of the world is more rural than urban. However, the rural population is on the constant decrease in many countries. Rural to urban migration is an important consequence of this demographic shift. Youth mainly migrate due to the push and pull factors. Push factors are not the same everywhere but may include lack of employment opportunities, lack of access to income, and no interest in agriculture. The pull factor may include perceived employment opportunities, social amenities, and cash-generating opportunities at urban centers (Imran et al. 2016). The main push factor is disinterest in agriculture. The reason for disinterest may vary from country to country, but commonly it includes lack of cash income from farming, lack of control over family land, and the belief that agriculture is not a profit. Having seen their parent struggling to earn a livelihood from agriculture, the youth are demotivated to adopt the same old-fashioned path. The decision-making power is often in the hands of landowners despite their slight involvement in field activities. This is a handicap for the youth and women who work on the land. Youth and women are involved in the production, harvesting, processing, and transportation, but they have limited opportunities to claim for the returns of their labor.
Knowledge about agriculture is important for young people to shape their abilities and enjoy opportunities. In rural areas of many developing countries, access to education and information is worse than in urban areas (Özçatalbaş and Gürgen 1998; Özçatalbaş 2002). While school enrollment is increasing worldwide, the curriculum doesn’t include enough and meaningful agricultural knowledge. Agriculture curricula have died out or old-fashioned, and in many developing countries, the curriculum is irrelevant to the rural framework. Moreover, in rural areas children don’t have enough diet and are hungry and couldn’t absorb the information. Quality of knowledge targeted at future farmers is very low from primary education to vocational training. So youth is deprived of developing interest and necessary skills to engage in agricultural activities. Moreover, in many countries still, top-bottom extension approach is in play. Lack of research-extension linkages and more focus on research and development are also an important hindrance. Agriculture know-how is often passed down from parents to children; however, it was found in a survey that youth feel that such information should be provided in a more effective way (PAFPNet 2010). Though extension services and vocational training are effective tools for transferring agricultural knowledge and capacity building for youth, they don’t always diffuse necessary skills. This may result in poor employment opportunities (Bennell 2007).
Sustainable access to a market is very important for farmers which enable them to acquire farm inputs and deliver products to buyers (IFAD 2010). Markets provide an opportunity to earn income, contribute to decreasing poverty and hunger, and meet consumer demands (in terms of quantity and quality). Young farmers’ access to markets is dynamic for enhancing productivity, raising income, and eradicating poverty, as they are the future of the agriculture sector. However, young farmers face many obstacles in accessing markets, sometimes more than smallholder farmers. Most of the young farmers are inexperienced and lack knowledge of how markets work; they often lack information about prices, management, business, and entrepreneurial skills.
Akpan (2010) mentioned four main factors constraining youth participation in agriculture: technical, socioeconomic, resource, and organizational constraints. Moreover, in many developing countries, infrastructure is also negatively impacting youth participation. The full potential of agriculture has not been realized in developing countries due to poor storage facilities, road network, insufficient budgets, poor supply of electricity, weak or nonexisting producer organizations, natural disasters, soil erosion, and low-quality inputs. At the governmental level, narrow base of policy formation, poor policy execution, and instability and inconsistency of policies are also constraints to the development of agriculture and youth engagement (IITA 2005). Furthermore, low youth participation in agriculture is largely because of high risk and costs, lack of funding, incentives, information, and an inefficient marketing system and labor intensiveness.
Empowering and Building Capacity of Youth in Agriculture
The potential and importance of youth for rural transformation is admitted by G20 as:
“We are convinced that rural youth can be the drivers of inclusive rural transformations that create opportunities for sustainable development that provide them with adequate quality life prospects.”
The main constraint seen by youth in entering the food production is secure access to land. The actions needed to ensure access to land may vary from country to country depending on the prevailing issues. Revisiting law and regulations related to inheritance or transfer of land to youth, rehabilitating (making desert land useful) land in regions where it is scarce, providing loans to youth targeted on purchase of land, encouraging land leasing by landowners to youth, and strengthening and modernizing rural institution in favor of youth can be listed as possible options to resolve access problem.
Just like access to land, finance is also important to start an agricultural activity. Adequate and comprehensive financial services can enable youth to be a productive and economically active member of agricultural communities. Subsidized loans, non-refundable grants, start-up capital, and incentives are critically important for promoting rural youth entrepreneurship in agriculture. The experience of Grameen Bank reveals that it is possible to lend to youth without any land or collateral. The offering of youth-dedicated products by some commercial banks, youth business idea competitions for lending, and start-up funding by governments are some important tools to equip youth with necessary financial resources.
As the linking up of climate-smart production methods with marketing opportunities in modern value chains is increasing, investments in the education and training of youth are becoming more and more important. Increased involvement of multinational and national companies in agriculture and food value chains and growing concern of consumers about sustainability and poverty reduction have increased opportunities of engagement in agriculture for youth more than it was for their parents.New rural extension approaches can be formulated targeting and introducing youth with business and entrepreneurship skills, best practices in agriculture, and smart and sustainable agriculture. The Internet is becoming increasingly popular among youth, including the poorest regions of the world. Modern ICTs are appealing to youth and can be utilized for information access and better connection with producers and buyers. Equipping young farmers with smart devices and stable Internet will increase access to information and may help in online education and training.
Better inclusion of youth in the society, sustainable development, poverty reduction, and good quality agriculture products can be made possible by harnessing the potential of green jobs. Creation of new job and modifying existing jobs by making them greener offer enormous potential for youth employment. Making investments in education and training opportunities and equipping young people with new skills will increase their access to green jobs.
Access to market is significantly important for young people in agriculture around the globe, particularly in developing countries to generate increased income, boost productivity, and reduce poverty. Despite all these benefits attached with access to markets, the most market structure is not favorable for youth. Training and education are important for young farmers to seize the marketing opportunities. Many marketing services and information are available on the Internet and via ICTs. Youth is already involved in ICTs for social networking; hence, youth has an advantage by using these technologies for agriculture marketing and information fetching. The improvement in ICTs allows various actors in the value chain to connect. ICTs can be used to spread extension services and for selling and buying produces.
- In the agriculture sector, youth haven’t yet gained their full role in policymaking. In developing countries especially, it is an exploratory stage. In rural areas, youth is rarely involved in policy drafting, and decision-making is often thought to be the right of elders. Youth should be involved in the organization, and its voice should be heard (Fig. 1).
Transforming the opinion of youth about agriculture is very important to increase employment, livelihoods, and consequently food production. Approaches that leverage technology, education, access to land, financial and information resources, and creation of entrepreneur networks can make agriculture lucrative and walkable for youth, making the sector more attractive. Around the world, different countries, organizations, and policymakers are working to promote agriculture as an economically sustainable and intellectually stimulating career for youth. As a result, there is a renaissance of interest among youth, and it is vibrant to support this development.
The project Maximizing Agricultural Revenue and Key Enterprises in Targeted Sites (MARKETS II) is one of such project in Nigeria which is working to improve rural farmers’ performance, income, livelihoods, and food security by addressing constraints in the agricultural value chain. MARKETS II promotes agriculture as “agribusiness” to change young Nigerians’ view about agriculture and encourage them into the sector. Youth is not just engaging in farming but in other opportunities linked with the whole agricultural whole chain. The project is aimed at providing applied education on best practices and practical business analysis, improving access to land and financial resources, and promoting youth-driven networks and technology platforms.
In Europe, the European Council of Young Farmers (CEJA) is the representative and voice of Europe’s future generation of farmers. CEJA is a platform for information and exchange, and its main objective is to support the renewal of the farmer’s generation in the sector.
In South Asia, South Asia Youth Camp on Climate, Agriculture and Water is a platform for youth between 18 and 36 to influence their leaders and governments to take action on agriculture, water, and climate change. The camp mobilizes youth and gathers them to provide a platform to share ideas and opinions, take action, and protect rights of smallholder growers in the region.
These and similar projects, initiatives, and programs are striving to change young people’s views about agriculture and make it cool. Because without new farmers, improving the productive capacity of agriculture is impossible, which is important for sustainable food production and food security.
Achieving Zero Hunger (SDG-2) with Youth
The average age of the farmers is 60 years worldwide, and in some parts of the world like Southeast Asia, life expectancy is 70 years. This shows that the following generations of the farming families are leaving agriculture and moving to urban areas. Estimates say that by 2050, 70% of the world population will be living in urban areas. Keeping in view the statistics, can we say that farmers are becoming endangered species? On another hand, 790 million people still lack access to adequate food, 11% of the children are undernourished, and 158.6 million children under five are affected by stunting, worldwide. Food insecurity is affecting the large population in developing and underdeveloped countries. Food insecurity is the most prevalent problem in sub-Saharan Africa. Almost 50% of the adult population in sub-Saharan Africa and 25% in Southern Asia are facing severe or moderate food insecurity (UN).
The dream of achieving food security and economic development is impossible without farmers. To ensure food security, there is a need for increasing the productive capacity of agriculture by inducting fresh, resilient agriculture practices and sustainable food production systems. Despite this, investment in encouraging youth to participate in agriculture value chain has been minimum from governments, NGOs, multilateral institutions, and businesses. If agriculture and related value chain are not made attractive than moving to the urban area, in the future, we may have a situation where there will not be enough farmers to feed a growing world population. A farmer in the future will need to feed more people than today’s farmer, yet the majority of the farmers don’t earn enough to have an adequate living standard. There is a need for creating better living standards for farmers so that youth are attracted to adopt agriculture as a profession and supply future food demands.
The battle for achieving food security and poverty reduction will be won or lost in rural areas of developing countries. Though there has been significant progress in achieving food security in the last decade, the large portion of the population in developing countries is facing severe or moderate food insecurity. Food security is impossible to achieve without eradicating poverty. Youth in many developing countries is facing poverty and is unemployed or underemployed. Globally, 13% of youth is unemployed, and 350 million people are working poor. Researchers, policymakers, and think tank have indicated agriculture as a solution to problems like youth unemployment, poverty, and food security. If the development potential of the agriculture sector is seized, it could provide plentiful and gainful employment opportunities for rural youth and produce sufficient food for the increasing population. However, agriculture is not being seen as a cool and sustainable economic career for youth in many countries. Transforming the opinion of youth about agriculture is very important to increase employment, livelihoods, and consequently food production.
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