Provocation 6: Rural youth today, farmers tomorrow?

This seminar is the sixth in a series being initiated by the IIED /HIVOS Knowledge Programme: Small Producer Agency in Globalised Markets.

Article, 24 May 2012

24 May 2012, 09.00–12.00 (Central European Time). Idazaal, Prinsestraat 37, The Hague, The Netherlands.

A rising number of rural youth are turning their back on small-scale agriculture. Limited access to markets, assets, finance and infrastructure in rural areas, coupled with rapid growth and opportunities in urban areas increasingly makes cities the obvious choice in the search for a better life. But small-scale farming is critical to future food security, with global expectations that it can and should play a huge role in feeding the world population, which will likely exceed nine billion by 2050. Engaging rural youth in agriculture is key. So how can small-scale farming be made appealing for young people? And how can we ensure that it addresses their needs?

Why this 'provocation'

In the face of rapid urbanisation across the world, the number of young people in rural areas of many developing countries is falling. The exodus of rural youth means fewer small-scale farmers, today and tomorrow. For many of those who stay behind, the prospects of finding decent work are limited. Faced with little or no access to land, markets, finance and education, rural youth struggle to make small-scale agricultural activities profitable. Many are unemployed or work informally — often in unpaid, low-skilled, insecure and sometimes hazardous jobs.

But this is not just a local employment issue. It is also a global food security one — if today’s rural youth cannot or do not want to become tomorrow’s farmers, how can we hope to feed a fast-rising world population?

Do policy and investment interventions effectively target rural youth and agriculture? The most common interventions aimed at small-scale farming focus on production and adopt a ‘one-size-fits-all’ attitude. But the needs and aspirations of young smallholders do not necessarily match those of older ones — particularly given the changing dynamics of both agricultural markets and political economies.

Some development actors have begun calling for a new vision of small-scale farming —one that takes better account of the perspectives of both this generation and the next. At a special session of the Farmers’ Forum global meeting at IFAD in February 2012, representatives of young small-scale farmers from Africa, Asia and Latin America emphasised the need to give rural youth more access to finance, knowledge, markets and natural resources as well as a stronger say in the decisions that affect them. These are some of the priorities of young farmers today. So how can we meet them?

The provocation in practice

The provocation brought together policymakers, academics and practitioners working on agriculture and intergenerational change to discuss the perspectives of small-scale farmers against a backdrop of rising food insecurity and falling motivation among young people to choose smallholder agriculture as a livelihood option.

It aimed to address the following:

  • How can small-scale production and viable rural economies be effectively stimulated?
  • What are the aspirations and challenges of rural youth and small-scale farmers?
  • What are the realities of tomorrow’s small-scale farmers and to what extent do existing agricultural policies reflect those?
  • How do the attitudes of rural youth to small-scale agriculture differ from those of the present generation?
  • What does this mean for the institutions that support small-scale farmers, and the businesses that trade with them?


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