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"Youth should be part of the conversation about rural development"



Interview with Paul Winters

Assistant vice-president of the strategy and knowledge department of the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD), Paul Winters, highlights the factors that need to be in place for rural youth to prosper.

IFAD's 2019 Rural Development Report focuses on creating opportunities for rural youth. What are the key factors required?

There are three factors that are fundamental to the development of rural youth: productivity, connectivity and agency, which is a sense of empowerment. Regarding productivity, hopefully they will have had a certain amount of education, but that tends to focus on cognitive skills. Young people tend to have less experience with non-cognitive skills like leadership, teamwork, and working well with others, and this matters a lot for productivity.

Being connected is also critical, whether through traditional infrastructure, like roads, or via digital technologies such as mobile phones. It's all about accessing markets and information. The evidence also shows that you need a sense of empowerment to take advantage of the productive skills and the connectivity you have.

Some countries are more advanced in transforming their economies. How can others join them?

There needs to be investment and part of that needs to be in rural areas. Many countries only invest in urban areas, but this just leads to migration. In rural areas, you need to create opportunities, and there is a lot of potential for agriculture to be inclusive. You can invest in agriculture in such a way that it is sustainable and allows small-scale producers to participate. So, the decisions that countries make now can determine whether their young people will be able to participate in the transformation of their economies – or not.

The majority of young people in sub-Saharan Africa will end up in agriculture. The question is whether they are going to be involved in back breaking, staple crop production, or whether there will be a much more dynamic environment to allow agriculture to become a driver of change in rural areas, and create opportunities on and off farms.

Young people can be very good agricultural entrepreneurs. They are tech savvy, and they know how to sell things. Instead of farming themselves, they will buy products from farmers in their communities, process them and sell them on the market, providing income generation for themselves and other young people.

We need to look at the opportunities in the entire food systems and not just in agriculture.

Digital technology is one of the keys to transforming economies. Are infrastructure and investments to support technologies keeping up?

Things are moving in the right direction. There is a lot of opportunity, for example, through the digital revolution, but to take advantage of these opportunities requires investment, and we need to figure out how to make those investments advantageous for young people. There is a lot of talk about digital markets instead of physical markets, which involve a digital platform where buyers and sellers can interact. But this won’t happen automatically – you have to have someone to set that up. You have to make sure that the buyers, like supermarkets and restaurants, are there on that digital platform, then you need to make sure that the seller – either farmers or farmers organisations – are also on this platform. It’s a great example of how to take advantage of the digital revolution, but it requires some action. In particular, we need to show young people that the market is there and they can access it through technology.

How can young people have more of a say in the opportunities that could be made available to them?

Young people are excluded from a lot of the policymaking and decisions that affect their lives. It’s rare even for ministers of youth to be young, and committees that work with governments on behalf of youth only sometimes include young people. And so, in political processes, young people tend not to be as involved as they should be.

IFAD’s 2019 Rural Development Report mentions the need to actively engage young people in policymaking. That does not mean having a separate youth council, but that youth should be part of the overall conversations about rural development, and investment, so that they are part of the decision-making process.

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