The world’s population is expected to grow to almost 10 billion by 2050, mainly driven by population growth in developing countries.

"Supply of labour outstrips demand and so young people are leaving rural communities in their droves, leaving aging smallholders."

More food is needed to feed this growing population, yet development within agriculture and rural economies is stagnant. Every year, millions of young people are joining the labour force in rural areas facing daunting challenges. Supply of labour outstrips demand and so young people are leaving rural communities in their droves. What they often leave behind are aging smallholders who are less likely to embrace technology and more likely to maintain the status quo, perpetuating rural poverty and poor working practices.

Three quarters of the world’s poor live in rural areas and the Food and Agriculture Organisation of the UN (FAO) estimates that 70-90 per cent of those who are occupied within agriculture are part of the informal economy - with no access to workers’ rights, social support, basic safety or a regular wage.

 

The potential in rural youth

 

Peter Wobst, Senior Programme Advisor for the Strategic Programme on Rural Poverty Reduction at FAO wants to turn this hopeless situation on its head. “What we have is a large untapped reservoir of employment opportunities in agri-food systems,” he says. “If you provide young people with skills and resources, you create more jobs, more viable opportunities and impact decisions at a higher level.”

The international community has recognised the great potential of rural youth. In July the G20 announced their Initiative for Rural Youth Employment in Hamburg, another international mechanism to give young people better opportunities. But, as Mr. Wobst points out, “We need more action on the ground with national governments promoting inclusive policies, complemented with targeted investments in rural development, to create an enabling environment for rural youth employment.”  

 

Photo credit: ©FAO/Giuseppe Carotenuto

The national approach, like Senegal

 

FAO is working to help governments invest not only in new technologies and innovations, but also in human capital, so young people have the necessary skills to productively contribute to the agricultural sector and the development of rural communities.

"Another major challenge affecting youth development is the persistence of child labour in rural areas."

At the moment, over 70 per cent of all child labour is found in agriculture, affecting 108 million children. This is a key consideration that needs to be addressed as part of wider policies on rural youth employment.

Senegal is just one of a number of countries where the government has made a commitment to adopt a National Rural Youth Employment Policy in order to create 100,000 to 150,000 jobs a year. The success of the project will depend on large scale investment in the form of public/private partnerships along with the development of grass roots entrepreneurship schemes that directly involve the young people themselves. It’s a challenge that many other countries need to take on.