A wealth of practical experience has accumulated over the past 100 years related to working with rural young people through education and training. FAO itself has been a part of this effort for at least the past four decades. Today, youth development, with its strong research/knowledge base, and adequate policy and resource support, can become a powerful force in empowering large numbers of rural young people in developing countries to take an active role in sustainable agriculture and rural development as a major contributor to the overall progress in their respective countries.
The mission of FAO's rural youth development work is to strengthen and expand existing government and non-government rural youth programmes and help set up new ones that enable girls and boys and young women and young men to become productive and contributing citizens of their local communities.
Milestones of FAO's work over recent years include two expert consultations; one in 1985 as part of the UN System's International Youth Year and the other in 1995. This last expert consultation laid the foundation for the current rural youth programme. FAO's YouthWorks, a newsletter first published in 1986, reaches thousands of professional youth workers around the world in French, Spanish and English. Over the past few years, there have been a series of ten national rural youth seminars in Asia, Africa and the Latin America/Caribbean Regions focusing attention on the important role that young people can and do play in food security and sustainable development.
FAO's focal point for rural youth work is the Senior Officer, Rural Youth Development (firstname.lastname@example.org), located in the Extension, Education and Communication Service of the Sustainable Development Department in Rome, Italy. FAO out-posted extension, education and communication officers around the world also have responsibility for rural youth development. They are located in the FAO regional offices in Santiago, Chile for Latin America and the Caribbean; Accra, Ghana for Africa; Cairo, Egypt for the Near East; and Bangkok, Thailand for Asia and the Pacific. Officers with youth responsibilities are also found in the FAO sub-regional offices in Christ Church, Barbados for the Caribbean and Harare, Zimbabwe for Southern and East Africa. In addition to staff from the Extension, Education and Communication Service, rural youth development draws on expertise from many other divisions within FAO, including nutrition, agriculture, forestry and fisheries.
FAO's rural youth development work is carried out under the umbrella of the UN System's World Programme of Action for Youth to the Year 2000 and Beyond. FAO is a member of the UN Inter-Agency Working Group on Youth coordinated by the UN Youth Unit of the Department of Economic and Social Affairs in New York. FAO also participates in regular UN System World Youth Forums.
The rural youth work of FAO over the years has made significant contributions to making the lives of young people from rural areas more productive and meaningful by strengthening the organizations which serve them. The needs and challenges of rural young people today are greater than they have ever been in the past. In most developing countries, youth make up well over one-half of the total rural population.
Because of their numbers and potential impact, rural youth must be a major part of any equation dealing with immediate and long-term solutions to solving problems of food security and sustainable development. It is true that young people need education and training to prepare them to become the farmers and community leaders of the future, but even more importantly, they must receive maximum support and access to resources to enable them to become active partners in food security today!
In additional to a better mobilization of resources in house, FAO continues to seek partnerships with other organizations for the benefit of rural young people around the world. The new role of the Extension, Education and Communication Service is to provide the leadership to facilitate this expanded collaboration within FAO and to promote effective partnering with other UN agencies, international development organizations, donor groups, member governments and civil society; sharing a common interest in empowering young people in rural areas to become active partners in food security and sustainable development.