Young people face a very uncertain future in agriculture. Many of them, with more education than their parents, have different aspirations that do not include agriculture.
In that, they are often supported by their parents, who see farming as a dirty job that involves hard labor and barely supports a sustainable livelihood. Even so, parents may allow young men to attend training or join farmers’ groups, while young women are expected to perform household chores such as fetching water, cooking and cleaning.
At the same time, rural life is being transformed by information and computer technologies, which young people are often better able to exploit. They are likely more aware of climate change and the need to innovate and adapt.
Based on research insights, RTB is developing efforts to meet the needs of young people, in part as a contribution to meeting Sustainable Development Goal 4.4, a substantial increase in the number of young people with relevant skills.
One of the key recommendations is gender-responsive agricultural diversification, which is helping to modernize farming and make it more attractive to young people. Interest in agriculture can be increased if young women and men have the opportunity to directly apply the knowledge and skills they have gained though formal education. The knowledge-intensive nature of many aspects of modernized agriculture, for example, in relation to climate change adaptation and mitigation or specialized production of niche-market goods, is likely to increase the appeal of agriculture.
One approach to training is seen in the Youth Agripreneur Program of the International Institute of Tropical Agriculture (IITA). Young people participate in agribusiness incubators, receiving training and mentoring others. They are expected to develop a sound business plan and launch their own agribusiness. One such project contracted farmers to multiply high quality, newly developed varieties of cassava. In another, the young agripreneurs purchase raw and processed cassava roots that are used to make high quality cassava flour for sale in supermarkets.
Problems are highly gendered. Young women find it much harder to accumulate the capital needed to get into farming. Social norms may prevent them from working outside or far from home, while young men can work for wages locally and in cities. Even where policy mandates the presence of young people, who must represent 30% of all government-funded cooperatives in Kenya, youths are frustrated. They say older people are unwilling to give them any say in how the cooperative is run, which creates stress and tension. Perhaps there is an opportunity to create groups where young people dominate. Such groups could provide hands-on training in the skills needed to develop and manage a successful enterprise.
As a result of its research, RTB drew up a checklist to guide projects that hope to engage young people in agriculture. A crucial challenge in devising agricultural development strategies that will interest and attract young people is that the very category of ‘youth’ contains multitudes. A young person will have multiple identities, as a son or daughter, as a student, farmer or laborer, as a spouse or parent. Youth is a dynamic category that will have to be understood if young women and men are to be attracted to agriculture as a sustainable livelihood strategy.