February 13, 2018 | By

The Next Generation: Youth on the Move

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
The past two weeks, this blog series discussed the vast economic potential that rising youth populations can hold and the need for improvements in agricultural productivity to support economic growth and employment for them. This week, we consider the impacts of failing to support youth populations in their communities and discuss what implications those impacts might hold for countries worldwide.

For low- and middle-income countries (LMICs), the world of tomorrow is going to be a young place—the world will have the largest youth population in history. Projections suggest that by 2050 the world will be home to nearly 2 billion people younger than 15, and almost 90 percent of those under 24 years old will live in LMICs. The stability of not only these countries but of the entire world depends on the ability of youth to find meaningful employment in their communities.

Migration Can Offer Opportunities, Or Present Dangers

Youth unemployment is a global issue: about one in three people aged 15-29 are not employed, receiving training, or education. Young women are even worse off: women and girls make up the majority of those not in training, education, or employment. Additionally, nearly 40 percent of young people in developing countries are working, but live in extreme or moderate poverty despite having a job. These conditions are key motivators for youth migration, a rising phenomenon.

Migration can offer benefits to young people, such as better opportunities, more equitable gender norms, and improved education. For destination societies, youth provide healthy and motivated workers who can be employed in jobs that local workers are unable or unwilling to fill. This is particularly beneficial for high income countries that are facing low fertility rates, aging populations, and smaller workforces.

However, young migrants are particularly at risk for exploitation, abuse, and discrimination. Once they reach their destination, they can face dangerous or degrading work, despite possessing higher education and technical qualifications. Due to their age, young migrants separated from parents and communities can lack the guidance needed for successful development into adulthood. For their place of origin, communities can suffer from a loss of human capital, lower returns on educational investment, and decreased economic growth.

Young, Dense World

Many of these youth migrants are clustering in urban areas. Cities worldwide have struggled to absorb this population, leading to the rise of slums and concentrations of unemployed youth. Sub-Saharan Africa is expected to see both the greatest increase in youth populations and the sharpest rise in urbanization. Currently, only one of the 10 most populous cities in the world is in Africa; by 2075, Kinshasa, Democratic Republic of Congo is expected to be the world’s largest city. In 2100, it will be surpassed by Lagos, Nigeria, which is projected to have 88 million future residents.

Without the right investments, this concentrated young population will be a force for political instability. Disaffected young people are more likely to express themselves through riots and are vulnerable to radical political recruitment. From 1970 to 1999, 80 percent of civil conflicts were related to countries where the majority of the population was under the age of thirty. A 2011 World Bank Survey found that almost 40 percent of those who join rebel movements say that they found a lack of employment opportunities a motivating force. In an increasingly interconnected world, instability in one region is likely to affect global security.

Agricultural development is key to developing stability and raising incomes in the areas projected to see the largest increase in youth populations. Rural economies must be strengthened, or people will move into urban areas, seeking employment. Much of sub-Saharan Africa’s farmland is producing below its capacity, and with the right investments, smallholder farmers could reap larger harvests and increased profits. Increased food supply and higher incomes leads to better nutrition and education, which further strengthens the next generation’s capacity for success. As cities become larger and wealthier, their occupants will demand more and higher value food items, opening markets for agricultural producers and processors. It is vital that leaders act now to develop the investments, infrastructure, and reforms necessary to facilitate these markets.

The future of global food security depends on our ability to fight poverty and allow the next generation to fulfill their potential. Next week, this blog series will explore the opportunities of digital technology to deliver education, training, and more to rural communities and examine the infrastructure gaps that are holding this digital revolution back.


Read our previous posts in The Next Generation series:



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.


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


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