While Africas youthful population is bulging, farmers are growing older and with young people being overrepresented among the unemployed; calls for investments in youth are proliferating to ensure food security for future generations.
The African Unions Malabo Declaration, which contains a set of agriculture goals for 2025, calls for creating job opportunities for at least 30 percent of the youth in agriculture. Similarly, the UN General Assembly President, Miroslav Laj?ák, emphasized that an investment in youth is not an altruistic act; it is an investment in all of our futures.
However, investments that support skills, knowledge, employment and finance for young people are still lacking especially in rural areas. It is therefore paramount that investments by and for young farmers are increased and that we continue the debate on how to better engage youth in agriculture, as it is estimated that there will be 9 billion mouths to feed by 2050.
A responsible agricultural investment engages and empowers youth
Supporting investments in youth was also what the members of the UN Committee on World Food Security had in mind in 2014, and when they adopted the ten Principles for Responsible Investments in Agriculture and Food Systems (CFS-RAI). In fact, the members decided that one of the principles should be entirely dedicated to youth, ascertaining that a responsible investment also means engaging and empowering youth.
This principle specifies that investments should advance youths access to land, training, decent work, new technologies, resources e.g. tools, finance and inputs such as seeds and support young entrepreneurs. However, questions remain on how to apply this principle in practice. For instance, which capacities and business skills are young people missing? What policies and laws are in place to enhance investment by and for youth and what new ones are needed?
A new tool to assess and strengthen capacities to support youth in agriculture
To support investments that engage and empower youth, FAO has developed a new tool, which helps governments, enterprises, farmer organizations, youth organizations and others to identify their existing and needed capacities to ensure that youth can benefit from investment.
The tool is organized as a questionnaire, intended to be used in multi-stakeholder groups, to assess capacities across different domains. For instance, the set-up of institutions for agricultural investment policy making (e.g. Who coordinates investments and which actors are involved?); the policies, laws and incentives for youth (e.g. youth employment strategies that support young job seekers to find work in agriculture); and organizational and individual capacities to engage and empower youth (e.g. Are there organizations that provide credit to youth? Do young people have access to agricultural or business education?).
With support from the Swiss Federal Office for Agriculture, FAO has been applying and refining this capacity identification tool at three workshops with youth, their organizations, government representatives and others. The workshops took place in Uganda, Côte dIvoire and the Southern African Development Community (the latter with participants from Malawi, Mozambique, Namibia and South Africa). Several of the workshop participants were also YPARD members, such as Gebhard Eshuma from Namibia who has written about his experience here.
Assessing capacities at country level in Africa
At the three workshops with youth that FAO conducted, participants identified several opportunities to develop capacities to enhance investments for and by youth. For instance, enhancing capacities to facilitate access to financial services. Subsidies or guarantees for loans could help young agro-entrepreneurs who often lack collateral. The need for larger loans for youth that are already in business was also highlighted, as it is difficult for young subsistence farmers to expand their enterprise without significant additional funds.
Capacities to support youth-sensitive tax legislation were also discussed. In Uganda, participants expressed the need for enhanced capacities to enact tax incentives to support young aspiring farmers. Meanwhile, in Côte dIvoire, we learned that of a tax law that provides tax deductions for enterprises hiring youth under 35 to supports youth employment.
Participants also identified several opportunities to strengthen institutions and institutional collaboration. According to one participant, the workshop was the first time they actually met with all national actors to discuss youth-related issues. Strengthening or creating Multi-stakeholder dialogue and coordination, was therefore commonly considered as an opportunity for more efficient action on youth in agriculture.
Setting up new institutions can also help to support youth. For instance, the idea was aired to create an agribusiness incubator for youth an organization that helps start-ups that can train and mentor youth and share technologies, such as software to help youth manage their inputs, costs and transactions.
Finally, advocacy opportunities to change the marred image of the agricultural sector were also discussed. In Uganda for example, tales were told of rural youth that preferred to sell their land to buy a motorcycle and try their luck as a motorcycle taxi driver (boda boda) in the city. The government of Uganda and FAO have therefore developed Youth Champions Initiative aimed at recognizing successful young agro-entrepreneurs (youth champions) to make the sector more attractive and inspire their peers.
Future steps for todays youth
Although there is no one size fits all solution, it is clear from the successful uses of the new capacity identification tool that there are plenty of opportunities to support youth with investments and to invest in a way that empowers them.
By the end of this year, the final version of the tool will be published with an accompanying guidance note. Henceforth, stakeholders can use the tool to organize their own multi-stakeholder workshop on youth and assess their own capacities.Once stakeholders have identified where the opportunities are to improve capacities to empower youth, action can be taken. With the capacity assessment tool soon leaving its nest, it is time to ensure that investments for youth will really take flight.