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Celebrating International Youth Day 2015

27 April 2016

A teenage girl sells lettuce at a vegetable market in La Trinidad, Benguet, Philippines. Young rural people represent a significant portion of the agricultural workforce, and they can play a major role in the development of rural areas. ©IFAD/GMB Akash

Today's generation of young people – defined by the United Nations as those aged 15 to 24 – is the largest in history.

An estimated 87 per cent of the world's young people live in developing countries, and the majority live in rural areas.

However, in the world's poorest countries, opportunities for youth are often limited or non-existent, leaving them  marginalized politically, economically and socially.

But as we celebrate International Youth Day (12 August), it is important to remember the important role rural youth can play in achieving sustainable development. Rural youth represent an enormous and often untapped resource.

This year's theme is youth civic engagement to encourage young women and men to get engaged with their communities.

Around the world, IFAD-supported programmes are working to address the needs of young rural people and to give them a voice in their own development. They sponsor activities designed to make rural life an attractive and viable livelihood option for a new generation. 

In honour of International Youth Day 2015, we compiled the top five reasons IFAD invests in rural youth.

1.    Help feed the world's growing population

The world's population is expected to exceed nine billion people by 2050. Burgeoning populations will mean more demand for food, water and land.

Young people living in rural areas have the potential, as the farmers and producers of tomorrow, to help feed the world.

Many of IFAD's programme support young people in overcoming barriers to agricultural production. For example, in the Gambia, IFAD supports projects that work with youth kafos (traditional village groups) to facilitate access to productive land.

Through the kafos, young people gain access to land which they use to cultivate food that helps to feed people in their community, while increasing their personal incomes.

2.    Decrease poverty by helping rural young people find employment

High youth unemployment is one of the biggest problems that affects most developing and transition countries.

Young people living in rural areas are impacted by high rates of poverty, and in many cases  migrate from rural areas and agricultural work in search of opportunities in bigger cities, where they face an uncertain future.

The ability of rural youth to engage in productive agricultural and non-agricultural activities has great social and economic benefits for both the young people and the economy.

To support rural youth in finding employment, IFAD has been partnering with two social enterprises (Making Cents International and Silatech) that specialize in entrepreneurship to help increase the employment and self-employment opportunities of more than 18,000 young people in the Near East and North Africa.

Covering four countries, Egypt, Morocco, Tunisia and Yemen, the three-year joint programme tests innovative financial and non-financial engagement tools for rural young people.

3.    Give youth a voice in key decision-making processes

Young people have many innovative ideas but are often excluded from planning and policy processes relating to the future of rural areas.

The lack of youth representation in these processes contributes to ignorance of the specific challenges rural young people are facing and therefore leads to failure to address youth issues.

But IFAD has seen that when young people can participate in community decision-making and take management roles in local organizations, they improve their own situations while also contributing their energy and creativity to their communities.

Through the Global Youth Innovation Network (GYIN), IFAD is widening the space for rural youth and their organizations to be heard at all levels.

In West and Central Africa, for instance, GYIN members are actively participating in policy planning processes. IFAD involves them in the design, supervision and monitoring of youth-related development activities in countries such as Benin, Cameron, Gambia, Ghana, Guinea, Mali, Nigeria, Senegal, and Togo.

4. Create incentives to make agriculture and rural life viable options for rural young people

The proportion of young people with basic education deficits is greater in rural areas than in urban ones, and young women especially are  marginalized.

Young rural people need genuine education and skills that are matched with opportunities.

In Madagascar, IFAD facilitated an apprenticeship system where young people were placed with small businesses, receiving practical, on-the-job training. They learned skills in a wide range of areas, including pottery, agricultural tool-making, shop-keeping, shoemaking, farming and weaving. They also gained skills in managing small-scale enterprises.

5. Harness the power of young people's creativity and ingenuity

Young rural people represent a significant portion of the agricultural workforce, and they can play a major role in the development of rural areas. But a range of access gaps (to land, financial services, technology, and markets) limit their potential.

With innovative ideas and motivation (as well as support to overcome these gaps), young rural women and men can contribute to the well-being of their communities.

In Colombia, an IFAD-supported a programme expanded access of poor women, youth and smallholder farmers to financial resources, technical assistance, and the knowledge needed to develop rural microenterprises and access markets. The programme developed an online course that was used to foster a culture of saving and entrepreneurial initiative among rural young people.

Young people hold the future in their hands; their civic engagement is essential to the life of rural communities.