Who will feed a hungry world?

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Who will feed a hungry world?

The future of our food systems depend on smart investments in agriculture that will both increase food production and also provide decent jobs for rural youth around the world.

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While global attention has focused on whether or not we need to produce more food to feed an increasing world population, there is one certainty that nobody can dispute: the world will need farmers!

The numbers are clear: half of the farmers in the United States are 55 or older, and the average age of farmers in sub-Saharan Africa is roughly 60 years old. With an aging population of farmers and agricultural workers, it’s clear that agriculture needs to attract more young people. 

Africa’s youth population (15-24) is growing faster than any other region. About 70 per cent of the continent is under 30. ©Amadou Keita

Africa’s youth population (15-24) is growing faster than any other region. About 70 per cent of the continent is under 30. ©Amadou Keita

And the world is not short of young people. There are now more than 1.2 billion young people between the ages of 15 and 24. Almost 90 per cent of them live inImage caption text developing countries and more than half of them are in rural areas.

Africa’s youth population (15-24) is growing faster than any other region. About 70 per cent of the continent is under 30.

The challenge for all governments – both within Africa and around the world – is not merely to create decent jobs that will provide young people with a stable and viable economic future, but also to feed a growing population.

The solution seems quite simple at first glance. If young people need jobs – farming will be a great opportunity for them. The reality is quite the opposite.

A lack of long-term investment in smallholder agriculture has made it challenging for young people to be able to stay in rural areas and take up smallholder agriculture.

Since agriculture is seen as laborious and poorly paid, few young people aspire to remain in rural areas and make a living from farming. Many are migrating, either to urban areas or overseas.

At IFAD we understand the important role that rural youth can play in feeding a hungry world and building peaceful communities.

We have been working to address the unique challenges rural youth face and have invested in a multitude of innovative measures designed to support and employ youth in rural areas.

Capacity building and professional training for young people in Mali

Fisherman in a canoe on the Niger delta. In Mali, an IFAD-supported project is helping connect rural youth with micro-credit and professional training.

One project in Africa, for example, the Rural Youth Vocational Training Employment and Entrepreneurship Support Project  in Mali calls upon young facilitators from local NGOs to work with four groups of youth (girls 15-17; boys 15-17; young women 18-40; young men 18-40), introducing them to different possible economic opportunities in rural areas and helping them choose their path.

At the end of this facilitation process, youth under 18 have the possibility to choose among a range of education options, while young people over 18 can apply to receive the micro-credit and professional training that will help them set up their own (individual or group-based) economic activity.

Giving youth a seat at the table in El Salvador

Young people meet to discuss rural development in El Salvador.

Young people meet to discuss rural development in El Salvador. 

In Central America, the IFAD grant on Promoting Young People’s Entrepreneurship in Poor Rural Territories is working with partners to develop country and regional platforms for rural youth to engage in policy dialogue. These platforms also operate as a network for information sharing and disseminating best practices and solutions that are relevant and functional to the livelihoods of rural young men and women.

In El Salvador, for example, the network has become a formalised legal entity with over 3000 young members and has been instrumental in allowing youth to link with IFAD and other national stakeholders to bring out their needs and expectations.

As a result, a national plan for the development of rural youth was drafted and endorsed by El Salvador’s Vice-minister of Agriculture.

Young entrepreneurs receive access to financial services in Morocco, Egypt, Tunisia, and Yemen

Members of youth savings groups in Egypt are given training in entrepreneurship and business management.

In the Arab world, IFAD has been working with partners in Morocco, Egypt, Tunisia and Yemen on the Rural Youth Economic Empowerment Programme to connect rural youth and financial and non-financial services through pioneering solutions that encourage the financial inclusion of young people.

By means of tailoring financial products to fit the need of young people, the programme proved that youth can be served sustainably and on a large scale. The programme also developed mobile technology to improve market linkages in the rural retail sector that employ a large number of young people. By its completion, the programme achieved remarkable outreach, providing savings or credit services to approximately 20,543 youth and non-financial support to 14,252 youth.

Supporting a new generation of organic farmers in the Pacific Islands 

In the Pacific Islands, the Capacity Building for Resilient Agriculture project focuses on working with youth by building their capacity and that of producer organisations to support organic food production, market linkages and developing agricultural resilience to climate change. Following the identification of key producer constraints, the project sets out to fill the gaps by training young producers in post-harvest handling, production, value addition and business planning.

In its third year, 600 young farmers established sustainable farm enterprises and the project disseminated success factors for scaling up the project.

These are just a few examples of IFAD's engagement with youth around the world but they offer insights into the need for innovative solutions and keeping young people as central actors to these solutions.

The population and hunger challenges the world faces may be stark, but rural young people stand as a largely untapped resource who will either contribute to a better world and social progress or exacerbate civil tensions. We need to intensify our efforts since what we have done so far is not enough.