Soil Mates! Learn to make the right match between youth and agriculture opportunities

Soil Mates, the down and dirty on connecting eligible agricultural opportunities to the youth who totally dig em

The role of international development practitioners can often be compared to that of a traditional match maker: helping to identify complementary strengths and needs to foster a successful relationship. At Making Cents, we believe the key to unlocking the potential for youth engagement in agriculture is finding the right fit in the relationship between youth and agriculture opportunities.

Acting as a match maker requires several steps:

1. Know your client

While you may have two clients looking for a match, this doesn’t automatically mean that they are a good fit for each other. The same sentiment holds for agricultural matchmaking—opportunities in soya bean production on one side and underemployed youth on the other does not necessarily equal agri-couple of the year. So how can you ensure a good match? By defining each client’s needs and strengths. If tasked with working in a specific value chain, then conduct an in-depth, value chain assessment to identify relevance and accessibility of different activities. When focusing on a specific youth sub-group, conduct a youth assessment to gain a comprehensive picture of what is happening in their lives and why. Ultimately, both assessments will be conducted; understanding each client will help define the best match.

Under the USAID Kenya Horticulture Competitiveness Project, Making Cents conducted a youth-inclusive value chain assessment and found that post-harvest opportunities (such as sorting and grading) in export-oriented, high-value horticulture appealed to youth. Companies operating in these value chains needed workers with fresh energy, perspective, and the willingness to take up new practices and found that youth were a strong match.

As a result of a recent youth assessment conducted in Tanzania and Uganda under the MasterCard Foundation-funded East Africa Youth Inclusion Program (EAYIP), Making Cents found that the easiest entry point for younger youth (15–18) in the target group was often small-scale poultry farming, small ruminants such as goats or sheep, and horticulture. Older youth (19–24) in the target group often had access to more resources and preferred to focus on staple crop production or trading. In traditional cattle-rearing communities, many older, male youth owned cows and envisioned building their agribusinesses around milk and beef production.

2. Think skills

Match makers know that every client is unique. Each has a different history and is looking for specific qualities in a potential partner. The same is true for agriculture matchmaking, which is why a skills analysis is so critical. Different value chain activities require distinct skill sets of the people looking to successfully engage with those opportunities. Likewise, skill sets tend to vary amongst youth sub-groups, making certain opportunities more or less accessible to them. While technical skills are important, soft skills and numeracy and literacy provide a critical foundation and also must be considered.

Often, youth require additional skills development to build capacity and ability to partner with different agricultural opportunities. Making Cents has worked on USAID’s Lebanon Industry Value Chain Development (LIVCD) project to identify the skills necessary for youth to succeed in processing activities. Findings from the analysis were then overlaid with the skills that youth in the program already had. Making Cents then created a supplemental training program that built partners’ capacity to address identified skills gaps and position youth for success in agricultural processing.

3. Situation matters

Sometimes two people are drawn to one another but situational or structural barriers stand in the way of their union. All healthy relationships need an environment conducive to their partnership. Agriculture opportunities can be demanding, requiring specific assets, resources, or levels of mobility in order for a person to be effective. An approach that analyzes family, community, regional, and national environments can reveal matches that make sense according to availability of resources and identify barriers due to cultural and physical constraints.

Creating supportive environments at personal, family, community and national levels allow youth and agriculture to form a lasting bond. As part of EAYIP, Making Cents conducted focus group discussions with both youth and their families in Tanzania and Uganda. This holistic approach revealed that youth with agribusinesses are sometimes undercut by their parents when there is tension in the household. We also found that some families are willing to provide youth with valuable agricultural resources, such as land or livestock, if they are confident in the youth’s ability to make good choices and use the resources wisely. In response, Making Cents developed a soft-skills curriculum that focuses heavily on negotiation skills, positive communication, planning, and empathy. These skills will equip young people with tools to address the barriers they face at the family level, gain access to family resources, and find ways to work more collaboratively for the collective good of the family.

Good matchmaking is not easy, but it is worthwhile. By assessing true needs and wants on both sides, preparing youth with the skills they need, and creating a supportive environment, there is the potential to build relationships between youth and agriculture that can last a lifetime.

About the Increasing Impact through Youth Engagement in Agriculture Activity

YouthPower Learning, funded by USAID, is supporting USAID’s Bureau for Food Security (BFS) and the Feed the Future initiative in improved integration of youth in agriculture programming. To that end, YouthPower Learning is developing youth engagement program design guides for the BFS and USAID Mission staff, which will be followed by capacity building and learning efforts to ensure uptake.

The Soil Mates infographic was presented at the YouthPower Learning Annual Meeting to illustrate the analysis process that can successfully match youth with agricultural opportunities. In keeping with the idea that youth want innovative, fresh, viable, and fun ways of engaging with agriculture, we wove some levity, playfulness, and a musical reference or two into the visualization of our analytical framework.