Not My Grandpa’s Agriculture

working on farm

t’s not surprising that rural youth around the world don’t want to follow well-worn paths into low-return, subsistence agriculture. But does this mean that agriculture programs shouldn’t bother trying to connect with youth, or that youth programs can forget about agriculture as a viable livelihood option? At Making Cents International, we answer these questions with a resounding “No.” Indeed, we are encouraged by what we learned from youth in South Sudan, Kenya, and other countries about the kinds of agriculture programs and activities that interest them.

  • The youth I’ve met in my work for Making Cents usually express more interest than adult farmers do in new markets, new crops, new technologies, and climate-smart agriculture. These youth are often early adopters. They want to experiment; they aren’t ‘stuck in the mud’ with traditional farming practices. Shouldn’t agriculture programs look to them for innovations, both on and off the farm?

  • Agriculture programs that reach out to rural youth know that youth don’t want to struggle, like their elders did, to provide for their families on small holdings with one main crop. But are these programs as well informed on what youth want, and on options within their communities that align with youth’s aspirations?

  • Though many youth are engaged in production in rural areas—perhaps helping on a family farm or providing labor on another farm—some are itching to move away, often to other rural areas or urban centers. Can agricultural and youth programs steer these youth into off-farm agriculture opportunities that leverage their farming experience and knowledge?

What Making Cents Heard from Youth in South Sudan.

As part of our assessments for USAID’s FARM II Project, we asked youth about their interest in farming and how they might want to farm. Responses were unambiguous. Youth did not want to pursue the cereal crops and subsistence agriculture familiar to their parents and grandparents. Horticulture, on the other hand, had great appeal due to shorter growing seasons, smaller plots of land needed, relatively high prices, and chronic shortages in local markets. Youth also acknowledged their need to gain skills for how to manage a business. They had less interest in trainings that strictly addressed technical fixes, such as seeds and fertilizers. Our assessments also noted that youth value role models: entrepreneurial people who have practiced positive risk-taking and from whom they can seek advice. Making Cents is working to ensure that these youthful voices are heard, in South Sudan and elsewhere. We are making recommendations on project design and leading training workshops on youth engagement in every segment of agriculture value chains: from production to post-harvest processing, storage, transport, and marketing.

What We Heard from Youth in Kenya.

We assessed youth inclusion opportunities across key value chains for USAID’s Kenya Horticulture Competitiveness Project and developed a training curriculum for project staff and providers of business development services. The youth we interviewed had a very entrepreneurial bent and little or no interest in their grandparents’ agriculture. Instead, they honed in on floriculture and horticulture: crops with short growing cycles that don’t require much land. They wanted to earn income from diverse sources and try different things. Shouldn’t agriculture and youth programs capitalize on this flexibility and interest in diversification, a crucial building block of resiliency?

Lots of Progress, But Could We Do More?

Yes, donor-funded agriculture programs have gone way beyond support for subsistence agriculture. They now incorporate holistic approaches and activities that promote new markets, agro-forestry, livestock, policy reform, more equitable land tenure, women’s empowerment, improved nutrition, and resilience to climate change. But are these programs spending enough time and resources listening to and investing in the next generation of farmers and agricultural entrepreneurs?

In recognition of the vast potential of agricultural modernization and rural development to improve the economic well-being of youth worldwide, our 10th Anniversary Global Youth Economic Opportunities Summit will feature a spotlight on youth, agri-food systems and rural development. We invite you to join this critical conversation at the Summit on September 28-30, 2016 in Washington, D.C.

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