The following suggested actions and activities for developing rural youth in Lao PDR include recommendations made by youth during group discussions for this study:
As the researchers for this study realized, there are no specific strategies for national development policies and programmes for either rural or urban youth, even though there is a significant difference in their conditions and their opportunities.
The same situation appears when looking at programmes and development projects implemented by government institutions and international organizations. There is an obvious lack of attention on youth, especially rural youth, and their needs. Projects target children and mothers or the rural population in general, but there are no programmes or projects emphasizing rural youth development.
However, there are several barriers for development in some rural areas: remoteness of villages without road access and very limited or no access to education, health care and services.
It is recommended that government institutions and international organizations focus on rural youth, target their needs and develop their potential. Policies that encourage youth to remain in their villages and help develop the rural communities are needed. Most beneficial would be addressing rural youth's needs and potential while they are still in the local community instead of targeting them after they migrate to Vientiane or elsewhere. The policies also need to be gender-responsive to reflect the big differences in opportunities for men and women.
Involving youth in the early phases of an international organization's project, when they can express their needs, allows them to develop ownership for the ensuing activities. This could be achieved by establishing youth interest and management groups on, say, animal rearing, crop production, fishponds, handicrafts, etc.
Encouraging rural youth to stay at home requires rural youth development projects that specify agriculture and income-generating activities. Allowing the LYU to play a primary role in the implementing of such projects would be most beneficial, considering the union has an organizational framework throughout the country that can serve as an initial foundation for projects.
Current development policies refer to academic education across the country without taking into consideration that it might not be the best way to help rural youth improve their situation. The ability to read and write is, of course, a very important skill, but the findings from this study indicate that there is need to focus educational policy on developing all forms of education. This includes strengthening vocational education options.
Many rural youth in the study's discussion sessions expressed a desire to continue their academic studies at secondary and university levels while others requested acquiring vocational skills. Future development projects should take both these interests into account. Both need equal importance and support.
Educational curricula should meet the needs of youth, both urban and rural. They also should focus on gender aspects and how to improve young women's situations and especially encourage them to participate in income-generating activities. It is also important to consider the lack of employment opportunities that vocational training graduates encounter, which can be addressed through improved access to credit and funds. A special village fund for youth to start entrepreneurial enterprises and activities is one approach.
Another issue needing attention is parents' lack of support to their children's education. This is especially the case in ethnic minority communities and especially for girls where traditional practices of keeping children out of school and girls marrying at a very early age are common. Supportive parents as well as a complete education can help improve youth's chances for better job options later in life. But changing traditions, especially among parents who are not educated and who see no need to prioritize school, is a long process. When developing youth's opportunities, it is important to incorporate information campaigns that target parents in order to win their support.
Even though they do not consider subsistence agricultural activities as employment, youth are interested in agriculture if earning a cash income is possible. Agriculture should be a cornerstone of development activities targeting rural youth so that they can learn the potential in farming, particularly with modern and improved technologies and techniques relating to crop and livestock production, including agribusiness. Further, it is important that villagers have access to markets to sell their products and commodities or that buyers can get to them. Cash crop production and related crop processing are areas that would benefit both young men and women.
Lack of employment opportunities prompts rural youth to migrate. They head to urban areas of Lao PDR or to neighbouring countries, especially Thailand, because they see better possibilities for finding work. In doing so they run the high risk of ending up victimized by human traffickers, more so than their urban counterparts. Development projects addressing rural youth need to include information about the difficulties that migrants to urban areas experience, especially young women, as they are more vulnerable to being trafficked.
Employment possibilities for rural youth could include the following areas:
There is considerable potential for small livestock activities, such as poultry, pigs and goat production. Poultry are fairly easy to breed, and the sale of poultry meat and eggs is convenient, as it primarily takes place in the village. However, improved skills and knowledge in poultry production are required. This includes establishing chicken runs or hen houses, nutrition and use of improved feeds, breeding, health and various other management aspects. These points hold true for pig and goat production as well.
As fish is an important part of the Lao diet, a ready market exists. But youth require improved skills and knowledge in the construction and maintenance of fishponds, nutrition, health, breeding and fingerling management.
Apart from rice production, a range of crops including fruits, vegetables and ornamental plants, have the potential for both food security and for selling. Suitable training will be required.
There is a wide range of items and commodities that could form very lucrative income-generating businesses and activities for rural youth. Adding value via processing or other marketing techniques (packaging, labelling, etc.) will expand the marketability of NTFPs.
The lack of finance hampers the rural population's development opportunities, especially among the youth. Promoting and improving access to funds and microfinance for investment in agricultural production, either through bank loans or revolving funds in the villages, are recommended. Improving female farmers' access to credit and other financial services are crucial to develop rural communities.
Improving rural youth's opportunity to receive funding through the FAO-sponsored TeleFood Programme to enable small-scale projects is another viable approach. However, there is a need to either simplify the application procedures and requirements or to provide relevant training for youth and/or training DAFEO and LYU staff and members to be facilitators for the application process and requirements.
Rural youth are open-minded and curious to learn new things and are crucial to the development of the country. But as one informant noted during a discussion session, "Rural youth have new fresh brain, why do people forget that? We have to invest in the youth." (MOAF, 2005, personal communication)