Decent Rural Employment

Near East and North Africa: Promoting youth inclusion in FAO and their engagement in agrifood systems


As part of its efforts to empower youth and promote their engagement in decision-making processes, FAO has organized a series of regional webinars aimed at presenting its internal institutional mechanisms and sharing country-level example of how young people can meaningfully contribute to the formulation of agrifood policies,. The first event of the series was held by the FAO Regional Office for the Near East and North Africa (RNE) on 31 March, under the theme Youth - From ‘’who and how’’ to countries examples.

In the Near East and North Africa (NENA) region, more than 28% of the population is aged between 15 and 29. Representing over 108 million people, this is the largest number of young people to transition to adulthood in the region’s history (Eurostat, 2020). During the webinar, Benjamin Davis, Director of the FAO Inclusive Rural Transformation and Gender Equality Division, emphasized that youth are recognized as agents of change when they are entrusted with fulfilling their own potential. However, in economic terms, they pay a price, facing higher rates of informality and NEET (not in education, employment or training), which have been increasing since 2012. This reality is even more challenging when looking at gender indicators; the youth unemployment rate is 26%, but 40% for young women.

In its Strategic Framework 2022-2031, FAO renewed its commitment to young people, by identifying ‘’youth’’ as a transversal thematic across all of FAO’s programmatic work (along with the other two cross cutting themes of gender and inclusion). Further, in its Medium Term Plan 2022-25 and Rural Youth Action Plan (RYAP), FAO acknowledges that youth, as future managers of our agri-food systems, must be explicitly targeted to ensure inclusive economic development that is resilient to future crises and shocks and contributes to the achievement of the SDGs.

Through examples from Syria, Lebanon, and Mauritania, the webinar highlighted that the definition of youth changes from country to country and that these definitions need to be taken into account in local programming. In this process, the heterogeneity of youth needs to be addressed in a context-specific way through the use of age-inclusive language; age disaggregation, and the adoption of age-sensitive strategies are also essential to include the distinct needs of each youth (women, migrants, indigenous people), since the conceptual design phase of a project. This allows to  best supports youth access to land, inputs, natural resources, financing, and inclusion in decision-making processes.

In Syria, the Nabta Programme for youth agri-entrepreneurship and its targeted intervention on Digital Innovation in agriculture  have being tailored to the local needs with the support of local implementation partners. The project creates linkages between market offer and demand through workshops and entrepreneurship trainings (trainers of trainers), as well as through the provision of financial support for the best agribusiness proposals from youth and women. The sustainability of youth-funded projects is enhanced through a continuous mentoring service, a video platform to promote agricultural innovation, and a specific e-market Facebook platform and app.

In Lebanon, the project Upgrading the Technical Agriculture Education System aims to improve the employability of Lebanese youth, displaced Syrians and other refugees. The project focuses on strengthening technical agricultural schools (affiliated with the Ministry of Agriculture) by revising their curricula, supporting school equipment and improving vocational training. It is also upgrading students' digital skills to support linkages with market demands and the private sector.

In Mauritania, the project Building Resilience in the Sahel Region through Job Creation for Youth works with rural youth to promote greener and decent rural employment opportunities, while bridging the humanitarian, development and peace nexus. It supports social cohesion among rural youth in fragile contexts and youth access to sustainable employment opportunities, by piloting employment schemes. The focus on youth livelihoods, training and empowerment also addresses some of the adverse drivers of youth migration and youth radicalization, from a socio-economic angle.

All of the projects provided consistent, multi-layered work with youth. The following discussion emphasized the importance of youth-sensitive strategies for the programming of all FAO projects. In addition, it stressed that, when promoting innovation and digitization, it is essential to assess what ‘innovation’ means in each context, and what the costs of digitization are for a full inclusion of rural youth.

The FAO Regional Programme Leader for RNE, Jean Marc Faurès, concluded the session highlighting that youth as a transversal theme within the FAO Strategic Framework represents an opportunity and a top priority. On cross-cutting themes, there is always the question of whether to integrate it into all institutional activities and programs or to have specific projects focused on the theme. Both actions are necessary and this is what FAO is promoting in the region.

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