Decent Rural Employment

Impact of COVID-19 on rural youth employment


Disruptions in agricultural value chains and markets are severely affecting rural livelihoods. Due to lockdowns and movement restrictions, small farmers and agribusinesses are often unable to process their fresh produce and/or access markets. Declining demand and lower prices are leading to heightened food waste and income loss. Seasonal and migrant workers, no longer generating income, are returning to their areas of origin, with ripple effects on their households.

Rural youth risk to disproportionately suffer from the pandemic. Already facing higher unemployment and underemployment rates compared to adults, rural youth are 40 percent more likely to be in casual work arrangements than urban youth (ILO, 2017). Most earn their income on a daily or weekly basis, with little or no access to health insurance or social security. Small-scale enterprises in the agri-food sector are also particularly vulnerable to simultaneous supply and demand shocks resulting in higher production costs and lower revenues. The severe losses and financial burdens faced by young agripreneurs can undermine their key role as employers and positive models for other youths in rural areas.

Advocating for youth-inclusive responses

Economic recovery goes hand in hand with social justice and decent work (UNSG, 2020). Along with other members of the UN Inter-Agency Network on Youth Development (IANYD), FAO called for effective and safe partnerships with young people, during and after the COVID-19 crisis, in order to ensure that related responses are inclusive of their needs and uphold their human rights (full statement here).

While short-term responses will focus on targeted social protection and emergency interventions, in the medium to long term there is a need to createmore and better employment and business opportunities for young rural people, supporting their transition to the formal economy. To this end, FAO Decent Rural Employment Team through its multi-country Integrated Country Approach to boost decent jobs for youth in agri-food systems launched an initiative to listen to young people’s needs and concerns, understand the specific impacts of the outbreak on their lives and agribusinesses, identify possible solutions.

The information collected is meant to help jointly determine what is feasible to act upon and to identify alternative practices or youth-led innovations introduced to face the emergency, which could be scaled up in the next phase of response.

Above all, FAO is committed to strengthen existing partnerships with rural youth organizations to amplify their voices in the national and international debate and to advocate with decision makers to make more space for the meaningful participation of youth in planning, implementing and monitoring the COVID-19 response.

Engaging youth through digital communication

The initiative was launched at the end of March 2020 through youth networks and groups of young farmer champions and agripreneurs collaborating with FAO, mainly across Africa. Partner organizations include, among others: Rwanda Youth in Agribusiness Forum (RYAF)Uganda Young Farmers Champions Network (YOFCHAN)Conseil National de la Jeunesse du Sénégal (CNJS)Red Nacional de Jovenes Rurales de Guatemala, and the East African Farmer Federation at sub-regional level.

We invited rural youth to share their experiences and expectations by answering three questions:

  1. How is Covid-19 affecting your personal and professional life?
    (challenges for your business, family, community)
  2. How are you organizing your work to cope with the crisis?
    (solutions, alternative practices, innovations, etc.)
  3. What kind of support would you need to face this emergency situation?
    (information needed, measures expected from government, other organizations, etc.)

In order to reduce access barriers while aligning with the #StayHome directives, a variety of communication channels (social media, online surveys, WhatsApp, email, dedicated digital platforms such as ChispaRural.GT) have been used to reach rural youth, based on local context and preferences.

Hundreds of youths shared the challenges faced by small individual businesses, cooperatives and social enterprises operating along different agri-food value, but also the perspectives of companies producing seeds, biogas, fertilizers, or providing agribusiness consultancy and marketing services. Communication focal points in larger umbrella organizations launched online consultations or recorded statements ofa representative on behalf of their members.

“This pandemic has affected me so much, it has given me a very hard time. I had six workers around, but I had to stop them from working because I can’t pay them. Even my side income (was lost) and the retail shop where my wife worked was closed.”

Sunday, a fish farmer from Uganda, explains in this video his business dilemma.

See more stories and videos submitted by youth in RwandaKenyaUgandaSenegalGuatemala.