The Chicago Council on Global Affairs is pleased to launch a new blog series, “The Next Generation,” to explore the challenges and opportunities of agricultural systems in a world with unprecedented numbers of young people. We will publish one post each week addressing these issues, and our series will culminate with the release of a new Council report at the 2018 Global Food Security Symposium. Join the discussion using #GlobalAg, and tune in to the symposium live stream on March 21 and 22.
By Laura Glenn O'Carroll
If you wanted to change the world, how would you do it? What investments, tools, and policies would bring good jobs to the most people, bring countries out of poverty, and ensure a sustainable food supply? As the global population continues to expand, particularly in regions already affected by food and nutrition insecurity, innovators and policy makers are asking exactly this question as they consider how to take action.
Luckily, we know what works
. Investing in small-scale agricultural development works
Growing Populations and the Promise of Agricultural Development
The world has seen a radical reduction in poverty over the past several decades. Between 1990 and 2013, there was a 35 percent drop in the number of people living on less than $1.90 a day. This means that nearly 1.1 billion people moved out of extreme poverty
since 1990. These inspiring metrics underline a message of hope and of promise. Yet, with more than 600 million people on earth still living in extreme poverty, there remains a great deal of work to do. Progress has demonstrated, however, that with the right investment and policies, poverty can be eliminated. Now, policy makers, innovators, and investors must continue progress in the face of a new challenge: rising youth populations.
Global populations are continuing to expand, and in the regions with the highest growth this is fueling a youth bulge—a baby-boom-like demographic effect, where the majority of a society is very young. This rising generation offers the potential to kick off unprecedented economic growth with their motivation, ingenuity, and drive. But first, they must have access to opportunity.
Three out of four poor people globally live in rural areas, and 65 percent
of poor working adults earn their living through agriculture. As many of the regions poised to see the largest increases in youth populations also have agriculture-based
economies, it comes as no surprise that investments in what people are doing, where they are doing it offers the most promise
. A great deal of tomorrow’s youth population will be working
in the agriculture and food sector. Investments to make their work more productive (such as facilitating market access and increasing access to finance, inputs, technologies, training, and education) are up to four times more effective
in raising incomes for the poorest poor than investments in other sectors.
Incomes from Agriculture Have Compounding Effects
Furthermore, agricultural development supports the creation of other pathways
out of poverty. As incomes for smallholder farmers increase, families can support their children’s educations, start new businesses, and consume more goods themselves, supporting further economic growth. Agricultural products form the base of additional trades, as economies develop to process, move, and market even higher value food products. An in-depth study of 25 countries
that made the swiftest reduction in poverty between 1985 and 2005 demonstrated that more than half of the decrease in poverty was achieved via growth in agricultural incomes.
For example, Vietnam offers a striking case study for the power of agricultural development to shift a country’s economic fortune. During the early 1980s, Vietnam was a net food-importer, with nearly 60 percent of the country living below the international poverty line. The doi moi
reforms of the late 1980s liberalized trade regulations, strengthened the land rights of smallholder farmers, and importantly, funneled investment into agricultural development
. Agricultural outputs boomed, and Vietnam is now the second highest exporter of rice and coffee on earth. This increase in prosperity dramatically impacted the fortunes of poor people; by 2002 Vietnam had already achieved the Millennium Development Goal
of halving poverty.
Agricultural development has not occurred evenly across the globe, however. While Asia has seen a decrease in poverty rates from more than 60 percent in 1990 to less than four percent
now, regions such as sub-Saharan Africa have seen disparities in progress
. To create a future of opportunity for the next generation and their communities, we must seize this window of opportunity. Already, changing climates, conflict, and disease
are threatening to roll back the progress
of the last thirty years. With current productivity, sub-Saharan Africa is projected to only supply 12 percent
of its food demand by 2030. Based on current rates of progress, by 2030 more than 25 percent
of children in low-income countries will still suffer from stunting, a shockingly unacceptable rate in the modern world.
The future of global food security depends on our ability to fight poverty and allow the next generation to fulfill their potential. Agricultural development is a vital part of the solution and must be expanded in an equitable, evidence-driven manner; otherwise, growth might deepen economic disparities and displacement.
Next week, this blog series will review the evidence to explore the possible outcomes of employment challenges in the face of expanding youth populations, including migration and the impacts on global security.
Read our previous post in The Next Generation series: