The new Dryland Systems Youth Strategy provides a framework for effective youth engagement across the dry areas – helping to position youth as ‘agents of change’ and drivers of new agricultural innovations.
Today’s youth are growing up in a rapidly-changing, globalized world typified by migration, urbanization, technological innovations and rising aspirations – a situation that presents both opportunities and challenges. On the one hand, rising educational levels and the emergence of technological innovations such as social media are creating new opportunities for better-paid, higher-status work; on the other hand exposure to social media can also generate unrealistic aspirations.
Rising aspirations create problems for the agricultural sector: they fuel migration to cities as young people escape rural areas and the grueling work often associated with farming. The result is an ageing agricultural workforce, raising questions about the capacity of rural communities to produce enough food.
A more optimistic take, however, perceives rising aspirations and education levels as an opportunity – with better skills, knowledge and more diversified social networks, aspirational youth can emerge as dynamic agents of change, capable of transforming the agricultural sector and driving higher rates of productivity. Alongside agricultural researchers, many are now experimenting to find ways of scaling-up new innovations or emerging as new leaders to introduce new ways of working and establish dynamic businesses, enterprises, and cooperatives.
In order to encourage the development of new youth-targeted initiatives and innovations in drylands agriculture, the CGIAR Research Program on Dryland Systems has recently released its Youth Strategy 2015-2017. The strategy is designed to initiate a youth-led agricultural transformation which enhances young people’s access to, and control over, agricultural assets, technologies, services, products, income, and decision making processes.
The first of its kind within the CGIAR, the strategy hopes to establish a precedent that will stimulate serious attention to this critical stakeholder group across the CGIAR and its varied portfolio of Research Programs. Developed through a comprehensive participatory process involving many stakeholders, it is anticipated that the strategy will set in motion a number of innovative activities aimed at creating opportunities for and attracting young people to agriculture in the drylands.
Dryland Systems’ Youth Strategy aims to:
- Promote a transformative environment – through innovations and capacity strengthening;
- Provide a framework for policymaker engagement - assisting with the formulation of policies, institutional reforms, and investment models; and
- Develop and implement interdisciplinary methods for integrating youth issues in systems research – further identifying challenges and strategies to meet the needs of this growing demographic.
The strategy recognizes that in order to build sustainable agricultural livelihoods in the drylands and tackling challenges of poverty, food and nutrition security, climate change, land and resource degradation, young people must be actively engaged as critical change agents that drive innovative agricultural development. Furthermore, appropriate youth-targeted policies and plans of action need to be designed and put in place at local, national and global levels in order to create an enabling policy environment that allows young people to thrive.
Recognition has already been forthcoming from Young Professionals for Agricultural Development ( YPARD) - the pre-eminent global network of young agricultural professionals, hosted by the Global Forum on Agricultural Research.
Their take on the strategy? An important step towards effective youth engagement in agriculture.
Conceived as a ‘living document,’ the strategy will continually evolve to incorporate fresh insights and experiences from across the CGIAR and partner organizations.