The engagment of youth in sustainable agriculture and food systems in Cambodia
I would like to offer some brief comments concerning the opportunities for, and constraining factors affecting youth engagement and employment in agriculture and food systems, particulalrly regarding youth access to training, education and mentorship programmes and to policy making processes in Cambodia. These comments are based on experience with agricultural education and policy matters in Cambodia and other countries. I am currently employed in Cambodia as an EU-FAO Policy Officer for the FIRST Programme supporting transformation to support sustainable food systems.
Cambodia has a youthful population, with tremendous enthusiasm to secure rewarding employment, pursue opportunities for enterprise and to innovate. Cambodia has the potental to secure a once only demographic dividend in coming decades. This potential arises as the youthful population surges forward; dependency ratios for the workforce are falling; health is improving; and knowledge, skills and technology are all fueling economic and social development. The dividend is by no means guaranteed. The right investments and policies are required to capitalise on the opportunity. Handled skillfully, this is the opportunity for Cambodia to score on its sustaibnable development goals and to move rapidly onwards from Lower Middle Income Status.
For the agricultural sector, the returns to labour and capital are lower than for other sectors. Agricultural growth lags behind other sectors and agriculture is less and less attractive to youth as a source of employment or a course of study.
My key observations regarding the constraints and opportunities for youth in terms of access to training, education and mentorship are:
- Such opportunities are limited for the general population, but improving quite rapidly in the face of demand.
- For agriculture, it likely the demand for access to these services in their current format will continue to decline. The skills provided to support employment in agriculture need regular review and in most cases, the skills on offer are not very relevant or attractive for youth. The opportunities for youth living in rural and remote communities are much less than for urban settings.
- Particular care is needed to promote equity in access to these services and to examine the profound impacts of youth migration accompanying profound structural change in the economy.
- Mentorship for rural youth considering employment in agriculture is particulalrly lacking. There are few role models, practical examples or clear paths to follow.
- There is a lack of resourcing for the research, innovation and enterprise that drives a successful agricultural industry and this is reflected in the educational offerings and the vocational training associated with the sector. These areas have been neglected in favour of development projects aimed at the aging population of farmers with little evidence of successful engagment of youth in productive and profitable activity in the sector.
- There is no lack of enthusiasm for ideas and opportunities on the part of youth. Yet there is insufficient attention to nuturing that enthusiasm for the pruposes of promoting sustainable agriculture.
In terms of access to policy processes, youth have had little chance for access to those processes or voice in the policy dialogue. This situation is changing rapidly. Respect for elders and for tradition is embedded in Cambodian society. Whilst that respect is preserved, there is also recognition that youth are increasingly steering the way forward. Opportunities for increasing youth engagement and voice in Cambodia relate to:
- Increased access to quality education and freedom from child labour
- Availability of youth platforms and networks giving youth an opportunity to see their needs and interests addressed.
- Social media, which gives a youthful population with a phenomenal level of smart phone ownership a voice, albeit with all the possibilities for distortion of opinions and manipulation that have accompanied the rise of such media.
- A rising popular culture accompanying increases in wealth, urbanisation and the freedoms enjoyed by youth, which amplifies certain aspects of youth opinion and aspirations. However, it seems that more effort is expended in promoting a mythical notion of a romantic rural existence, than in providing the any practical vision for employment and enterprise in agriculture.
- An active movement on the part of government, development agencies and civil society to engage with youth and to give them voice. Considering the potential, this movement is in a nascent state.
- Generational changes in the leadership of society.
Overall, the key elements to support transformation for Cambodia lie in creating and sharing a vision, providing the leadership for strategic processes to support the vision and public resources to set the wave in motion. The momentum will be sustained by youthful enthusiasm rewarded by profits.
In the consultations and drafting of the National Strategy for Food Security and Nutrtion 20192-2023 in Cambodia, we have recognised the importance of gender and youth as cross-cutting issues and set each working group supporting the strategy with the task of implementing specific actions to address gender concerns and youth.