Youth need to be systematically engaged in remunerative farming, the broader food sector, and farm-related and rural non-food-related activities for the future of farming and food security, rebalancing migration, youth employment (especially in the wake of the COVID-19 crisis) and overall rural development. Farmers’ organisations have proven to be critical institutions for the empowerment, poverty reduction and advancement of farmers and the rural poor. They are therefore well placed to be vehicles of rural youth empowerment.
IFAD is an international financial institution and a specialised agency of the United Nations that works to address poverty and hunger in rural areas of developing countries. According to IFAD (The International Fund for Agricultural Development), Farmers’ Organisations (FO) are in a position to support youth to gain skills, access input supplies, form agri-enterprises to process and market their products more effectively, access jobs and generate higher incomes. By consolidating their products, youth can develop linkages with other institutions and achieve economies of scale, which lower the costs of production, processing and marketing of agricultural commodities.
Youth, specifically rural, also face persistent barriers due to poverty and lack of investments in education, health and infrastructure in rural areas, all of which deprive young people of opportunities to be educated or to acquire skills to become gainfully employed. Being young, a woman and rural can be triply disadvantageous. Evidence from rural economies has also shown that young people are likely to migrate from rural areas to urban areas or overseas, resulting in both positive and negative impacts i.e. loss of family labour for farm work and exerting pressure on the urban infrastructure and services.
By being organized, rural youth gain greater bargaining power and are in a better position to negotiate with market players and increase their profits, while their voices become stronger and more amplified in lobbying for fair and equitable policies and programmes.
With the declaration of 2014 as the United Nations International Year of Family Farming, the Asian Farmers’ Association for Sustainable Rural Development (AFA) mobilized its network of FO members in 11 countries to prepare policy proposals through local, national and regional consultations focusing on youth and women farmer issues in Asia.
The experience in forming indigenous youth groups in an IFAD-supported project in India – Jharkhand Tribal Empowerment and Livelihoods Project (JTELP) – is illustrative. The project has established 811 youth groups, including 155 adolescent girl (13-18 years) groups. After an initial mapping exercise, training in leadership skills and functional governance literacy were provided and the youth groups were encouraged to meet and save weekly. Within 2-3 months, the youth groups were encouraged to open a group account at the nearest bank. After 6 months, the youth groups were evaluated, and those with high ratings became eligible for seed capital and simple business management training.
In one of the all-girl youth groups, a first-ever “eye-opening” exposure visit outside their village motivated the group to engage in a leaf plate-making enterprise during the COVID-19 pandemic. Youth groups also developed social action plans to promote indigenous culture, language, rituals, and folk songs and dances, and to address social issues in their community (such as alcoholism, gender discrimination). Out of 811 youth groups formed to date, 451 groups have been registered with the government to ensure they receive continuous support. Despite ongoing efforts, sustaining youth engagement in the long term remains a challenge.