February 23, 2017

Guest Commentary – Meeting Youth Where They Are

By Paul Weisenfeld, Executive Vice President for International Development, RTI International

In recent years, development practitioners and agriculture experts have been sounding the alarm bells about a looming threat to global food security: Farmers in lower-income countries are aging, and the youth who stand to take their place seem to want nothing to do with agriculture. This is a disturbing prospect, as current estimates tell us that we’ll need to produce at least 60 percent more food by 2050 to feed our growing global population. If the next generation of food producers is disinterested in food security and agriculture, who will take on this critical task of feeding the planet?

Add to this the fact that the economic plight of youth is closely linked to similarly complex trends in migration and urbanization, and we have a recipe for a major development challenge—and an opportunity.

A number of remarkable factors are contributing to youths’ rejection of agriculture—and none of them are inherently negative. First, the youth population in many countries is simply ballooning—60 percent of Africa’s population is between 15-25 years of age, for example. Second, young people are faced with daunting challenges to taking up agriculture-related activities: low wages, lack of access to capital, few land ownership opportunities, and scant access to advanced training and skill-building in the latest agricultural advances, to name a few. And third, youth from all backgrounds and countries today are more likely to be exposed to a wider range of media platforms, which, combined with other influences, helps them to dream bigger than they’ve ever dared before. The conventional wisdom holds that when youth, in the developing world and beyond, weigh their options for the future, back-breaking work in the hot sun to eke out a subsistence living in good years simply cannot compete with the lure of the big city. That said, economic growth and technology innovations are creating new, diverse opportunities for off-farm employment, of which many youth are unaware.

But there may be even more to this story. As the saying goes, we need to “meet people where they are.” If we don’t know where youth in developing countries are—geographically, mentally, financially—how can we truly help meet their needs?

My organization, RTI International, like many others, is partnering with USAID, implementing partners, and local institutions to help address youth unemployment through a number of development programs, as well as through initiatives like the Youth Voices project. But we also know that more, original research is needed to build the evidence base around the issues confronting today’s youth, particularly in food security and agriculture. This year, we’re adding to that evidence base by orchestrating a rigorous mixed-method study regarding youth migration in Kenya, the results of which will help inform future development programming in the areas of youth livelihoods and resilience. Our work is focusing on what drives youths’ decision making around when to migrate from their home, as well as the barriers and motivations to embracing or rejecting food production, processing, transport, marketing, and related activities. We expect our results to be available later this year.

We don’t yet have the “silver bullet” answer to engaging youth in agriculture and food security. We need to be prepared to accept the complexity of the real world where a solution that works in one country barely moves the needle in another context. And, we need to be realistic that our goal should not necessarily be to keep youth on farms. (As a development professional and a father, I can tell you that trying to convince youth to do something they’re not inclined to do is like rowing a boat upstream.) We as a development community may simply need to diversify our approach to fit emerging trends and differing environments.

Ultimately, knowing more about how and why youth make their decisions—including social, economic, and cultural factors—can only strengthen our approaches as development practitioners. If we don’t strive to learn more in addition to doing more, we’re simply placing bets, albeit well-intentioned ones, on the future of our global food system. 

About

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.

Blogroll

1,000 Days Blog, 1,000 Days

Africa Can End Poverty, World Bank

Agrilinks Blog

Bread Blog, Bread for the World

Can We Feed the World Blog, Agriculture for Impact

Concern Blogs, Concern Worldwide

Institute Insights, Bread for the World Institute

End Poverty in South Asia, World Bank

Global Development Blog, Center for Global Development

The Global Food Banking Network

Harvest 2050, Global Harvest Initiative

The Hunger and Undernutrition Blog, Humanitas Global Development

International Food Policy Research Institute News, IFPRI

International Maize and Wheat Improvement Center Blog, CIMMYT

ONE Blog, ONE Campaign

One Acre Fund Blog, One Acre Fund

Overseas Development Institute Blog, Overseas Development Institute

Oxfam America Blog, Oxfam America

Preventing Postharvest Loss, ADM Institute

Sense & Sustainability Blog, Sense & Sustainability

WFP USA Blog, World Food Program USA

Archive

| By Kat Sisler

You Should Know: Global Fragility Act of 2019

The Chicago Council on Global Affairs is pleased to announce a new blog series, Policies for a Nourished Future, which reviews domestic and international policies meant to address issues of global food security. For the next eight weeks, we will discuss areas of importance to the future of food such as technology, waste, and resilience, and the policies meant to address them. Without robust and proactive policy frameworks, nourishing our growing world will become increasingly difficult and expensive. The first piece in this series explains the Global Fragility Act and how it relates to food security.





| By Khristopher Nicholas

Next Generation 2019 - We All Gotta Eat

Our first post in the Next Generation blog series is by Khristopher Nicholas, PhD candidate in nutrition science at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.