Parliamentary alliances

Engaging young women and men in rural and agriculture development and resilience building in the face of COVID-19 and beyond

16/12/2020 - 

Globally there are estimated 1.21 billion people aged between 15 and 24, a number that will increase to 1.29 billion by 2030. In Africa only, more than 10 million young people are expected to enter the labour market every year for the next decade. This growing youth population, especially in developing countries, represents a great opportunity for harnessing a demographic dividend, but also economic and social challenges, which could lead to political instability or conflict. With the COVID-19 crisis exacerbating existing vulnerabilities of rural young women and men and inequalities, it is crucial to design inclusive and sound gender-responsive policies and legislation that support investments in employment creation, formalization and adoption of labor standards in rural areas, providing equal opportunities for them. It is also important to ensure youth access to quality jobs with decent working conditions, including a living wage, health and safety at work, on-the-job training and access to social protection.

In view of the above, the fourth virtual dialogue of the Parliamentarians Actions for Gender Equality and Resilient Food Systems in Response to COVID-19 series focused on how to engage young women and men in rural and agriculture development and resilience building in the face of COVID-19 and beyond. Within the framework of the ECOWAS Network of Parliamentarians on Gender and Agriculture Investments in Agriculture and Food Security, supported by FAO, IISD and Oxfam, it was agreed to organize the webinar ‘’Engaging young women and men in rural and agriculture development and resilience building in the face of COVID-19 and beyond’’. This webinar gathered Parliamentarians and strategic partners from Africa and Asia Pacific, and other key stakeholders representing rural youth organizations and networks.

The important role of youth is acknowledged at international level by the strong commitments made in both the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development Goal and the African Union Agenda 2063. As highlighted by Mr Robert Guei, FAO Sub-Regional Coordinator for West Africa "inclusive transformation of rural economies and food systems will not be possible without young women and men".  In order to harness the possibilities offered by the demographic dividend, deliberate efforts are needed to empower young women and men through equal access to productive resources and services, as well as by providing them with decent employment and income-generating opportunities. 

The webinar provided an opportunity to share some relevant initiatives and progress made to date towards these crucial goals. At a policy level, empowering young men and women is a key area of action to assist countries in creating more sustainable and inclusive agricultural systems, while also including them in the design and development of post-pandemic measures. In this respect, FAO has released several policy briefs to highlight the various challenges occurred by young people during the COVID-19 pandemic, including the briefs ‘’Rural youth and the COVID-19 pandemic’’ the ‘’Impact of COVID-19 on informal workers’’ and the “Gendered impacts of COVID-19 and equitable policy responses in agriculture, food security and nutrition”; while also featuring innovations coming from the youth themselves such as  the brief ‘’Africa’s youth in agrifood systems: Innovation in the context of COVID-19’’.

Examples of programmes designed to empower youth were offered from across the world, ranging from the FAO’s Integrated Country Approach (ICA) for boosting decent jobs for youth in the agri-food system, the Green Jobs for Rural Youth Programme, FAO and UNIDO’s Opportunities for Youth in Africa (OYA), up to the Magna Carta for Young Farmers in the Philippines. The importance of designing age and gender- responsive  interventions emerged strongly from the discussions, with a particular focus on developing a holistic approach to understand the specific problems faced by  young men and women. Participants recognized that a one-size fits all approach will not work. For example, women have experienced a disproportionate increase in their domestic burden and risk of domestic violence. It is vital that interventions are targeted to ensure that the complex and different needs of the most vulnerable and at high-risk populations are met.

There has also been an increasingly strong commitment to include both young men and women in policy formulation, implementation, monitoring and assessment. As Mr Robert Guei, emphasised, “working with and strengthening youth organisations as well as informal groups of young farmer champions, or agriprenuers, is the key strategy to enable more inclusive consultation and decision-making in the agri-food sector”. This requires ensuring  that young men and women can adequately participate in decision-making  affecting them, and they are given an equal voice to provide possible solutions. Further reforms are required within democratic institutions and decision-making bodies to give more  voice to the youth. In this regard, Mr Khadim Diop, President of the National Youth Council, Senegal introduced a draft bill issued in Senegal requiring 30% of youth representation in elected posts in decision-making bodies.

On the other hand, empowering young women and men entails supporting youth-led and youth-serving organizations in their capacity to represent and engage young people while strengthening their social capital. This will increase their access to vital information, services and opportunities for personal and professional development. As Ms Elizabeth Nsimadala, President of East Africa Farmer Federation (EAFF) and Pan-African Farmer Organization (PAFO) emphasised, young people need to create “stronger business groups, associations, cooperatives and champions in the networks. This will strengthen young men and women to speak volumes in advocating for their needs, demands and investment priorities to markets”. Clear messages and inclusive multi-stakeholder mechanisms are needed to ensure the voice of youth is heard and attracts the attention of all key actors across the agricultural value chain. Mr Khamutima Tumwebaze, Chair of the Young Farmers Champions Network (YOFCHAN) in Uganda, stressed the crucial role of agricultural youth champions to work as role models in rural communities to inspire other young people into agri-business, by showing the benefits of productively engaging in the agriculture sector.

Key takeaways and recommendations for Parliamentarians:

Systemic and holistic approach:

  • Foster a holistic approach with policies and interventions enhancing the development of youth skills and experience to work in agriculture as a productive business, whilst providing credit, financial support and equal access to inputs and markets for young men and women.

Financial support:

  • Develop inclusive financial stimulus packages tailored to youth. Financial support and subsidies must be provided to youth associations, cooperatives and businesses to minimise the crippling effects of over-taxation;
  • Introduce incentives, in the form of subsidies and tax breaks, for young people to encourage employment and a career in agriculture.

Market access:

  • Introduce simplified trade regimes and removal of red tape to encourage small-scale cross border trade and increase the ability of entrepreneurs and micro enterprises to take advantage of trading opportunities;
  • Address high level systemic issues, such as the deprivation of markets. Young women and men must be considered in the negotiation of trade agreements, such as the African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA), and in the reassessment of current agreements, to enable marginalised groups to access markets.

Equal opportunities:

  • Reform decision-making bodies and processes to ensure the inclusion and equal representation and opportunities for young men and women;
  • Promote digital inclusion policies and skills development programmes targeting youth, and young women in particular, creating opportunities for equal access to mobile and internet services, as well as education and business skills development.

Evidence-based policies:

  • Generate sex and age-disaggregated data to produce the evidence basis to be used in the design and implementation of gender-responsive policies and projects in the agriculture sector. Policy initiatives must be accompanied by a strong research agenda to ensure decisions are backed by adequate evidence and provide statistics on who to target, what to target and what their needs are.

Multi-stakeholder partnerships:

  • Strengthen strategic partnerships between Parliamentarians and non-parliamentary actors- including international organizations and think tanks, youth organisations, farmer groups, CSOs and private sector.

 Additional resources: