February 11, 2013

Commentary - Engaging youth in agriculture. Investing in our future.

Engaging youth in agriculture. Investing in our future.

 By Courtney Paisley

Courtney Paisley is the Global Coordinator of the Young Professionals’ Platform on Agricultural Research for Development (YPARD).

 With an expected population of 9 billion by 2050 and declining interest of youth worldwide to remain in rural areas and take up agriculture, who will feed this growing population?  Youth make up about one fifth of the population of developing and emerging economies and face global unemployment levels from 10-28%[1].  The number of young people of working age is increasing while this same group continues to shy away from careers in agriculture.

Agriculture has an image problem.  There is a decreasing interest among youth in entering agricultural related fields due to the persistent perception of agriculture as an outdated field with minimal financial returns.  But it remains true that youth face large challenges accessing land and finance without collateral.

The average age of a farmer is 52 in Brazil[2], 57 in the USA[3] and 60 in Africa[4].  Many agricultural research institutions have a disproportionately large number of staff close to retirement age.  This shortsightedness is impacting the sector now, with increasingly fewer qualified mentors to pass on knowledge and skills to the new generation, which will only get worse.

While the lack of youth in agriculture is well documented, plausible strategies for addressing the issue are not. Youth inclusivity, while recognized as important tends to become a ‘side issue’, with experts preferring to look at mainstreaming options instead of tackling the issue head on.  But we must recognize it for what it is: a critical threat to future food security that must be addressed now.  And in addressing it, we must ensure that youth, the key stakeholders in this process, are involved.

The Young Professionals’ Platform for Agricultural Research for Development (YPARD) has been working on these issues for many years, bringing the voice of youth to the table, providing information on opportunities in agricultural development, sharing success stories of young role models in agriculture and advocating for greater youth engagement and representation.  Some areas of intervention include tackling policy, attracting youth to agriculture and education.

Policy: To create an enabling environment for youth to enter into the agricultural sector, a supportive policy environment focused on youth is required.  Access to land and finance is a barrier for many, which is essential for farming and agricultural entrepreneurship.  Youth specific policies as well as providing a space for youth to engage in policy discussions are required.

Youth inclusion in the development of policy on an organizational level is also important and can be facilitated through youth representation and/or advisors on boards, steering and/or executive committees.

Attracting Youth: Agriculture is not featured promintnely in the media and is rarely glamorous when it is. Working with the media to provide more interesting portrayals of agricultural careers is important, as is working with ICTs and social media to reach a broader audience.  YPARD takes advantage of an increasingly ICT savvy young generation to share opportunities and disseminate information on agricultural development.  Many of YPARD’s members have also expressed their preference for integrating their passion for ICTs with agriculture, taking a more ‘modern’ approach to a traditional field.

Education: The skills and competencies of agricultural graduates do not meet the needs of today’s agricultural sector. Curriculum reform in tertiary level agricultural education is required to meet the demands of the labour sector, with particular attention to agribusiness and entrepreneurship, where many youth demonstrate an interest.  Youth require a range of skills and competencies beyond their technical discipline, particularly those ‘soft’ skills such as communication, leadership and business skills.  Reform of the agricultural curriculum must be a fully inclusive process which involves a wide range of stakeholders including youth.

With high unemployment rates globally and the lack of interest in traditional agricultural pursuits, a greater focus on entrepreneurship in agriculture is emerging.  Entrepreneurship has the potential to contribute to the rejuvenation of the industry, creating more employment opportunities, increasing the potential for profit and moving away from the perception of agriculture as a low prestige career.

A responsible agriculture, meeting global food security needs without depleting its resources, can only become a reality if young professionals are actively engaged in shaping the sector’s future.

Courtney Paisley is the Global Coordinator of the YPARD.  YPARD is a global platform where young professionals voice their views, exchange perspectives and to contribute to sustainably improved livelihoods, worldwide, through a dynamic agricultural research for development. Originally from Canada, Courtney has worked on agricultural development issues in East Africa and currently resides in Rome.  For more information on YPARD, or to register visit www.ypard.net

[1] ILO 2012 youth unemployment rates. From 9.5% in East Asia to 27.5% in North Africa

[2] Confederação Nacional de Agricultura" (CNA, 2001)

[3] USDA 2007 census

[4] UN FAO



The Global Food and Agriculture Program aims to inform the development of US policy on global agricultural development and food security by raising awareness and providing resources, information, and policy analysis to the US Administration, Congress, and interested experts and organizations.

The Global Food and Agriculture Program is housed within the Chicago Council on Global Affairs, an independent, nonpartisan organization that provides insight – and influences the public discourse – on critical global issues. The Council on Global Affairs convenes leading global voices and conducts independent research to bring clarity and offer solutions to challenges and opportunities across the globe. The Council is committed to engaging the public and raising global awareness of issues that transcend borders and transform how people, business, and governments engage the world.

Support for the Global Food and Agriculture Program is generously provided by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.


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