Investing in the future: Creating opportunities for young rural ... - IFAD

Investing in the future: Creating opportunities for young rural ... - IFAD

Investing in the future

Creating opportunities for young rural people

Investing in the future

Creating opportunities for young rural people

Paul Bennell

December 2010

The opinions expressed in this paper are those of the author and do not necessarily

represent those of the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD). The

designations employed and the presentation of material in this publication do not imply

the expression of any opinion whatsoever on the part of IFAD concerning the legal status

of any country, territory, city or area or of its authorities, or concerning the delimitation

of its frontiers or boundaries. The designations “developed” and “developing” countries

are intended for statistical convenience and do not necessarily express a judgement

about the stage reached by a particular country or area in the development process.

















Commonwealth of Independent States

Employment Generation and Marketing Mission

European Union

Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations

International Food Policy Research Institute

International Labour Office

The United Nations‟ Millennium Development Goals

Near East and North Africa

Non-governmental organization

Poverty Reduction Strategy Paper

Rural non-farm

Sub-Saharan Africa

Uganda Women‟s Effort to Save Orphans

World Development Report

Youth Employment Network


This paper 1 reviews the situation of rural youth in developing countries and

presents options for improving their livelihoods in the face of the many growing

challenges they face. The main geographical focus is sub-Saharan Africa and the

Near East and North Africa.

Rural youth in developing countries make up a very large and vulnerable group

that is seriously affected by the current international economic crisis. Globally,

three-quarters of the poor live in rural areas, and about one-half of the

population are young people. Climate change and the growing food crisis are also

expected to have a disproportionately high impact on rural youth. The Food and

Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) estimates that nearly half a

billion rural youth „do not get the chance to realize their full potential‟ (FAO,

2009). The 2005 International Labour Organization (ILO) report on Global

Employment Trends for Youth states: “today‟s youth represent a group with

serious vulnerabilities in the world of work. In recent years, slowing global

employment growth and increasing unemployment, underemployment and

disillusionment have hit young people hardest. As a result, today‟s youth are

faced with a growing deficit of decent work opportunities and high levels of

economic and social uncertainty” (ILO, 2005: p.1). The lack of decent

employment rather than open unemployment is the central issue in the majority

of rural locations. In overall terms, four times as many young people earn less

than US$ 2 a day than who are unemployed. Youth are particularly vulnerable in

conflict and post-conflict countries. Very high youth unemployment coupled with

rapid urbanization has fuelled civil conflict in many countries.

It is widely recognized that smallholder agriculture and non-farm production in

rural areas are among the most promising sectors for youth employment in the

majority of developing countries. However, harnessing this potential remains an

enormous challenge.

While the crisis of „youth unemployment‟ (particularly in urban areas) has been a

persistent concern of politicians and policymakers since the 1960s, youth

development has remained at the margins of national development strategies in

most countries. We are now witnessing, however, a resurgence of interest in

youth, the reasons for which stem from a growing realisation of the seriously

negative political, social and economic consequences stemming from the

precariousness of youth livelihoods. For many, this amounts to a „youth crisis‟,

the resolution of which requires innovative, wide-ranging „youth-friendly‟ policies

and implementation strategies.

The United Nations‟ Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) single out youth as a

key target group. Target 16 of the MDGs is to develop and implement strategies

for decent and productive work for youth. The 2007 World Development Report

published by the World Bank also focused on youth.

1 The original version of this paper was presented at the 2007 IFAD Governing Board

Meeting in Rome. It has been revised to take into account the latest developments in this

area, especially IFAD support for rural livelihood programming.


The global population of young people aged 12-24 is about 1.3 billion. The youth

population is projected to peak at 1.5 billion in 2035 and it will increase most

rapidly in sub-Saharan Africa (SSA) and Southeast Asia (by 26 per cent and

20 per cent respectively between 2005 and 2035). FAO estimates that about

55 per cent of youth reside in rural areas, but this figure is as high as 70 per

cent in SSA and South Asia. In SSA, young people aged 15-24 comprise 36 per

cent of the entire labour force, 33 per cent in the Near East and North Africa

(NENA), and 29 per cent in South Asia. About 85 per cent of the additional

500 million young people who will reach working age during the next decade live

in developing countries. The global economic downturn has accelerated the

growth of the rural youth population because many young migrants to urban

areas are returning to their rural homes and other young people are discouraged

from migrating to urban areas.

Globally, youth are nearly three times more likely to be unemployed than adults

(ILO, 2010) 2 . However, the incidence of youth unemployment varies considerably

from one region to another. It is highest in the NENA region, where nearly onequarter

of all youth are classified as being unemployed. It is lowest in East Asia

and South Asia with rates of 9.0 per cent and 10.7 per cent respectively. Youth

unemployment in sub-Saharan Africa was 12.6 per cent in 2009 (table 1).

(Breakdowns of rural and urban youth unemployment rates are not available.)

Particularly high rates of youth unemployment are closely linked with high rates

of landlessness – for example, 20 per cent in NENA.

Table 1: Youth unemployment rates by region

1999 and 2009

Region 1999 2009

Developed economies and EU 13.9 17.7

Central and Eastern Europe and CIS 22.7 21.5

East Asia 9.2 9.0

South East Asia and Pacific 13.1 15.3

South Asia 9.8 10.7

Latin America and the Caribbean 15.6 16.6

Middle East

North Africa





Sub-Saharan Africa 12.6 12.6

Source: ILO, Global Employment Trends, 2010.


Age and location are the two key defining characteristics of rural youth. Age

definitions of youth vary quite considerably. The United Nations defines youth as

all individuals aged between 15 and 24. The 2007 World Development Report,

which focuses on „the next generation‟, expands the definition of youth to include

all young people aged between 12 and 14. Similar definitional variations exist

with regard to location. Distinguishing between who is rural and who is urban is

2 Young people aged 15-24 are estimated to account for 60 per cent of the unemployed in sub-

Saharan Africa.


increasingly difficult, especially with the expansion of „peri-urban‟ areas where

large proportions of the population rely on agricultural activities to meet their

livelihood needs.

Traditionally, policy discussions concerning youth have been based on the

premise that youth are in transition from childhood to adulthood and, as such,

have specific characteristics that make them a distinct demographic and social

category. This transition is multi-faceted. It involves the sexual maturation of

individuals and their growing autonomy social and economic independence from

parents and other carers.

The nature of the transition from childhood to adulthood has changed over time

and varies considerably from one region to another. Rural children in developing

countries become adults quickly mainly because the transition from school to

work usually occurs at an early age and is completed in a short space of time.

The same is true for poor young rural women with regard to marriage and

childbearing. „Lack of alternatives‟ is the major reason given for very high levels

of marriage and childbearing among rural adolescent girls. Rural survival

strategies demand that young people fully contribute to meeting the livelihood

needs of their households from an early age. Consequently, youth as a

transitional stage barely exists for the large majority of rural youth, and the poor

in particular. Many children aged 5-14 also work (for example, 80 per cent in

rural Ethiopia).

Another related attribute of rural youth is that they tend to lack economic

independence or „autonomy‟. The rural household is a joint venture, and the

gender division of labour is such that full, individual control of the productive

process is virtually impossible for women in many countries. Given that large

proportions of rural youth are subordinate members of usually large extended

households, they are largely dependent on their parents for their livelihood

needs. As youth grow older, the autonomy of males increases, but contracts for

females. Moreover, in most traditional and poorest populations in low-income

countries, girls typically marry shortly after menarche or when they leave school.

Rural youth are also very heterogeneous. The World Bank definition of youth

encompasses the 12 year-old pre-pubescent boy attending primary school in a

remote rural area and a 24-year old single mother of four children eking out an

existence vending on the streets of a large rural village. Since their livelihood

needs are markedly different, they require very different sets or „packages‟ of

policy interventions. The same is true for other distinct groups of rural

disadvantaged youth including the disabled, ex-combatants, and orphans. A clear

separation also has to be made between school-aged youth and post-school

youth. One of the main reasons why youth programming has attracted so little

support from governments, NGOs and donor agencies is that post-school youth

are usually subsumed into the adult population as a whole. The implicit

assumption is, therefore, that this group does not face any additional problems

accessing the limited support services that are available for the adult population

as a whole. Nor do they have any social and economic needs that relate

specifically to their age that would give them priority over an above other

economically excluded and socially vulnerable groups. The logical conclusion of

this line of argument is that, given the limited relevance of youth as a distinct

and protracted transitional phase in most rural areas coupled with the


heterogeneity of rural youth, youth may have limited usefulness as a social

category around which major rural development policy initiatives should be


It is certainly the case that, with a few exceptions (such as South Africa), youth

as a target group is not a major policy priority of most governments in lowincome

developing countries. Ministries of Youth are generally very poorly

resourced and are usually subsumed (or combined) with other government

responsibilities, most commonly culture, sports and education. With regard to

national poverty alleviation strategies, youth receives very little attention in most

Poverty Reduction Strategy Papers (PRSPs). A 2005 overview of PRSPs

conducted by the Economic Commission for Africa concluded that „youth are still

being overlooked‟. In particular, the chapters in PRSPs on agriculture rarely

mention youth. Similarly, the standard chapter on „crosscutting‟ issues focuses

only on gender, environment and HIV/AIDS. In only two out of 12 PRSPs for

African countries that were reviewed youth is singled out as a „special group in

mainstreaming employment‟, and, even in these exceptional cases, urban youth

is of greater concern than rural youth. Even the current World Development

report on youth, devotes only four paragraphs to how to expand rural

opportunities for youth and focuses mainly on rural non-farm activities.

Only a relatively small number of recent IFAD projects specifically targeted

youth. These projects were mainly concentrated in the NENA region, where levels

of open unemployment among rural youth are particularly high. However,

considerably more attention is now being given to youth programming, with a

particular focus on promoting youth employment through both farm and nonfarm

enterprise development. In the past, IFAD provided only limited funding for

capacity development, especially skills training, for youth in agricultural

activities. In part, this was because there is no specific education component in

IFAD‟s core mandate, although vocational training is offered across all

agricultural specializations. IFAD is, however, becoming increasingly interested in

providing support for targeted training for young farmers.


Most rural youth are either employed (waged and self-employed) or not in the

labour force. The issue, therefore, is not so much about unemployment, but

serious under-employment in low productivity, predominantly household-based

activities. The ILO estimates that about 300 million youth (one-quarter of the

total) live on less than US$ 2 a day. The unemployed are mainly better-educated

urban youth who can afford to engage in relatively protracted job searches. It is

better, therefore, to focus on improving the livelihoods of the most

disadvantaged youth rather than those who are unemployed. Access to key

productive assets, particularly land, is a critical issue for young people.

It is often argued (although usually not based on robust evidence) that rural

youth are increasingly disinterested in smallholder farming and tend to travel

nationally and, increasingly, across international borders, in search of

employment. This exodus of young people from rural areas is resulting in a

marked ageing of the rural population in some countries. In some provinces in

China, for example, the average age of farmers is 45-50 years. Recent research


shows that migration from rural to urban areas will continue on a large scale,

and that this is an essential part of the livelihood coping strategies of the rural

poor. Temporary migration and commuting are also a routine part of the

combined rural-urban livelihood strategies of the poor across a wide range of

developing countries (Deshingkar, 2004). In many parts of Asia and Africa,

remittances from rural to urban migration are overtaking the income from

agriculture. It is important, therefore, that young people in rural areas are

prepared for productive lives in both rural and urban environments. Policymakers

should, in turn, revise negative perceptions of migration and view migration as

socially and economically desirable (see box).

EGMM in Andhra Pradesh

The Employment Generation and Marketing Mission (EGMM), which

was established by the Andhra Pradesh state government in India,

is a good example of a successful, pro-migration employment

generation scheme for rural youth. It relies on an extensive

network of 800,000 self-help groups that works closely with the

business community to help rural youth find formal-sector

employment. Rural academies provide short high-quality, focused

training courses in retail, security, English, work readiness and

computers. Youth trained in the programme earn about three to

four times the income of a rural farm household in the state.

Rural youth tend to be poorly educated, especially in comparison to urban youth.

The extent of „urban bias‟ in the provision of publicly funded education and

training services is large in most low-income developing countries (see Bennell,

1999). The deployment of teachers and other key workers to rural areas

amounts to nothing less than a crisis in many countries. Poor quality education,

high (direct and indirect) schooling costs, and the paucity of „good jobs‟ continue

to dampen the demand for education among poor parents.

Rural youth have been heavily involved in civil wars, and other forms of conflict

in a growing number of countries, which poses a major threat to the long-term

development prospects of these countries. Traditional safety nets are breaking

down and rural youth expectations for a better life are increasing, especially with

access to global information technologies.

Rural youth face major health problems, including malnutrition, malaria, and

HIV/AIDS. It is important, however, to keep the direct health threat posed by

HIV/AIDS in proper perspective. Except for a handful of very high prevalence

countries, HIV prevalence among rural teenagers remains very low. In very large

countries in sub-Saharan Africa such as Ethiopia, Nigeria, Democratic Republic of

the Congo and all of Asia and Central and South America, the incidence of HIV

infection among rural teenagers is well under one per cent. The main impact of

the AIDS epidemic on rural youth livelihoods is the rapidly growing number of

children and youth whose parents have died from AIDS-related illnesses.


As with the rural population as a whole, rural youth are engaged in a diverse

range of productive activities, both agricultural and non-agricultural. Statistics

are limited, but the proportions of rural youth engaged in waged and selfemployment

in both these main areas of activity varies considerably across


The lack of access to basic infrastructure in rural areas is also a key issue. In the

majority of countries in SSA, less than 10 per cent of rural households have

access to electricity and less than half have access to drinking water within

15 minutes of their homes. The impact on youth can be particularly severe. For

example, girls and young women are usually responsible for water collection, and

the lack of electricity seriously limits training and other employment creation



Over the coming decades, there will be much debate and uncertainty about the

roles and contributions of the agricultural and rural non-farm sectors in the

development process. It is impossible, therefore, to make robust projections of

future labour demand in rural areas. Rural reality is changing fast in many

countries. Agriculture is increasingly sophisticated and commercial, and a

growing share of rural incomes comes from the non-farm economy. Many of the

rural poor are part-time farmers or are landless.

It is widely recognized that rural diversification will be the lynchpin of successful

agricultural transformation in the future. Where rural diversification is not

economically feasible, the alternative will be the transition of economic activity

from rural to urban areas. Whatever the outcome, rural youth will be at the

forefront of this process of change.

Rural non-farm (RNF) activities account for a large and growing share of

employment and income, especially among the poor and women who lack key

assets, most notably land. The RNF sector is seen as the „ladder‟ from

under-employment in low-productivity smallholder production to regular wage

employment in the local economy and from there to jobs in the formal sector.

The key policy goals for the RNF sector are to identify the key engines of growth,

focus on sub sector-specific supply chains, and build flexible institutional

coalitions of public and private agencies (see Haggblade et al 2002).

Traditionally, manpower planners have assumed that increased demand for

labour in a particular sector, such as smallholder agriculture, depends on the

projected rate of growth of output and the elasticity of employment with respect

to output for that specific sector. However, in countries without unemployment

benefit systems, these assumptions generally do not apply. 3 Consequently, an

increase in the demand for labour is reflected in an increase in the quality rather

than the quantity of employment: workers move from unpaid to wage jobs, from

worse jobs to better jobs, etc. Subsistence agriculture and informal sectors are

„sponges‟ for surplus labour. Also, the traditional manpower planning analysis

3 This is because total employment is largely supply determined and employment elasticities of

demand tend to vary inversely with output growth.


sets up a false conflict between increasing productivity and increasing

employment. It leads employment planners to talk about the threat posed to

jobs of too fast growth in productivity, whereas the process is entirely the

opposite. Increasing productivity is at the centre stage for any strategy to

increase the quality of employment (Godfrey, 2005 and 2006).

Growth in productive-sector wage employment is a source of dynamism in the

labour market as a whole. When wage employment increases, the self-employed

in both rural and urban areas, also face less competition for assets and

customers and enjoy an increase in the demand for their products. The regions

that have been most successful recently in increasing demand for labour and

reducing the incidence of poverty are those where the share of productive-sector

wage earners in total employment has been rising. Unless demand for labour is

expanding it is very difficult to design and implement programmes to increase

the integrability of disadvantaged youth.

Boosting labour demand will depend on promoting growth sectors in the rural

economy in line with dynamic comparative advantage (which will be natural

resource-based in most countries) supported by an appropriate macroeconomic

policy framework.


A clear distinction should be made between, on the one hand, social and

economic policies that are not specifically targeted at youth, but nonetheless

benefit youth, either directly or indirectly, and, on the other hand, policies that

do target youth as a whole or groups of youth i.e. are youth-specific. It is widely

alleged that youth development is at the periphery of the development agenda in

most countries. And yet, given that youth comprise such a large proportion of

the rural labour force, most development projects and programmes in rural areas

do promote youth livelihoods to a large extent. Youth is the primary client group

for education and training programmes as well as health and health prevention

activities. Even so, participatory assessments often show that rural communities

want more youth-focused activities.

The 2007 World Development Report (WDR) on youth concludes that „youth

policies often fail‟. Youth policies in developing countries have frequently been

criticized for being biased towards non-poor, males living in urban areas. Given

the paucity of youth support services in many countries, they tend to be

captured by non-poor youth. For example, secondary school-leavers in SSA have

increasingly taken over rural training centres originally meant for primary schoolleavers

and secondary school dropouts. National youth service schemes enrol

only university graduates and occasionally secondary school leavers, most of who

are neither poor or from rural areas. Many schemes have been scrapped during

the last given deepening fiscal crises coupled with the relatively high costs of

these schemes.

The World Bank‟s 2007 global inventory of interventions to support young

workers is based on 289 documented projects and other interventions in

84 countries. However, only 13 per cent of the projects were in SSA and NENA

and less than 10 per cent of interventions were targeted exclusively in rural


areas. Two other notable findings are the predominance of skills training

interventions and the very limited robust evidence available on project outcomes

and impacts (Betcherman et al, 2007).

A common misconception of youth policy has been that boys and girls are a

homogeneous group. Uncritical focusing on youth could, therefore, divert

attention away from the gender agenda since female and male youth often have

conflicting interests. Rural adolescent girls are virtually trapped within the

domestic sphere in many countries. Because boys spend more time in productive

activities that generate income, they are more visible and are more likely,

therefore, to be supported.

Sexual reproductive health issues have increasingly dominated youth policy

during the last decade. Up to the 1990s, the main preoccupation of governments

and donors was to reduce youth fertility rates (through later marriage and

smaller families). Since then, the focus (in at least in SSA) has shifted to

reducing the risks of HIV infection among youth.

At the most general level, youth employment policies should focus on

(i) increasing the demand for labour in relation to supply; and (ii) increasing the

integrability‟ of disadvantaged youth so that they can take advantage of labour

market and other economic opportunities when they arise. There are three main

aspects of youth integration namely, remedying or counteracting market failure

(labour, credit, location, training systems), optimising labour market regulations,

and improving the skills of disadvantaged youth.

There is a fairly standard list of policy interventions to improve the livelihoods of

rural youth that are enumerated in policy discussions as well as in policy

documents and the academic literature. The United Nation‟s World Programme of

Action for Youth, which was originally promulgated in 1995, identifies the

following „fields of action‟: education, employment, hunger and poverty, health,

environment, drug abuse, juvenile delinquency, and leisure. Youth livelihood

improvement programmes typically distinguish between interventions that

improve capabilities and resources (especially education, health, „life skills‟,

training and financial services/credit) and those that structure opportunities

(individual and group income generation activities, promoting access to markets,

land, infrastructure and other services), the protection and promotion of rights,

and the development of youth institutions.

There is also increasing awareness of the inter-relatedness and linkages between

different kinds of interventions for youth. In particular, in the context of the AIDS

epidemic, it is contended that improved youth livelihoods may reduce the

incidence of high-risk „transactional‟ sexual relationships, which are mainly

motivated by material gain (the „sex-for-food, food-for-sex‟ syndrome).

Integrated programming is, therefore, desirable, but is complicated, both with to

programme design and implementation.

According to the sustainable livelihoods approach, the livelihood „capital assets‟

of rural youth can be broken down into the following four main types: political

and social, physical and natural, human, and financial. A wide range of livelihood

improvement interventions has been undertaken with respect to these asset

types. IFAD‟s core mandate focuses mainly on strengthening the productive base


of rural households and, as such, is most directly related to interventions that

improve physical and natural and financial assets as well as job-related human

capital through skills training.

The available evidence strongly suggests that comprehensive multiple services

approaches (such as the Jovenes programmes in South America) are more

effective than fragmented interventions for generating sustainable employment

opportunities for youth. However, such approaches are relatively expensive,

which continues to limit their applicability in most low-income developing


Social capital and youth empowerment

Youth, especially in rural areas, do not usually constitute an organized and vocal

constituency with the economic and social power to lobby on their own behalf.

Consequently, empowering rural youth to take an active role in agriculture and

rural development is critical. Successful youth policies also depend on effective

representation by youth. Traditionally, despite their size, rural youth have had

limited social and political power. Older people, and especially older males, tend

to dominate decision making at all levels in rural societies. In SSA, some writers

refer to this as a gerontocracy. The subordinate position of youth has been

further compounded by the traditional welfare approach – youth are viewed as

presenting problems that need to be solved through the intervention of older

people. It is now widely accepted, however, that youth can play a major role in

improving governance nationally and locally, and in implementing key economic

and social policies. In particular, rural youth should be at the forefront of efforts

to broaden opportunities for rural people. Urban bias with respect to macro-,

sector- and meso-level policies and related resource allocations is also likely to

become even more acute as the problems in urban areas increase and needs to

be countered. Well-designed interventions are required to build up the political

and social capital of rural youth. Youth have to be mobilized so that they are able

to participate fully and gain ownership over youth development strategies and

policies. This becomes even more challenging for young people who are under 18

and who are, therefore, still considered to be children.

New ways of working with young people in rural areas are being pioneered in

many countries. Rural youth organizations and networks should be established

and strengthened. There are many exciting developments in this area. For

example, the IFAD-funded Rural Youth Talents Programme in South America is

based on a new strategy that seeks systematize and publicize the experiences

and lessons learned from rural youth programming. The ILO-supported Youth-to-

Youth Fund in Cote d‟Ivoire, Guinea, Liberia, Sierra Leone and three East African

countries (Uganda, Tanzania and Kenya) also demonstrates how youth-led

organizations can effectively promote rural-based farming and non-farming

enterprises. The Mercy Corps Youth Transformation Framework has adopted a

similar approach in 40 fragile environment countries. Community Action Plans

have been successfully piloted in Jordan, which map youth livelihood

opportunities with the greatest potential and foster an entrepreneurial mindset

with a strong focus on life-skills training. The provision of financial services for

rural youth in Sierra Leone is another pioneering initiative (see box).


The Rural Finance and Community Improvement

Programme, Sierra Leone

The objective of this initiative is to help the rural poor, especially

youth, gain access to financial services by establishing financial

services associations. Each formally registered association enables

rural communities to access a comprehensive range of financial

services. It capitalizes on informal local rules, customs,

relationships, local knowledge and solidarity, while introducing

formal banking concepts and methods. The current associations

are wholly managed by young people. Each association has a

manager and a cashier selected by the programme from the local


Human capital-basic education

Nearly 140 million youth in developing countries are classified as „illiterate‟. More

generally, the preparation of rural youth for productive work is poor (see

Atchorarena and Gasperini, 2009). According to the 2007 World Development

Report, „changing circumstances‟ mean that much greater attention needs to be

given to the human capital needs of youth. These include „new health risks, the

changing nature of politics and the growth of civil society, globalisation and new

technologies, expansion in access to basic education, and the rising demand for

workers with higher education‟.

There is no simple, direct link between education and employment. However, the

best way to improve the future employment and livelihood prospects of

disadvantaged young people in both rural and urban areas is to ensure that they

stay in school until they are least functionally literate and numerate. Expanding

girl‟s education is the most obvious lever to change the situation of young

women. In the majority of low-income developing countries, however, rural

youth still do not acquire these basic competencies. In Ethiopia, for example,

nearly three-quarters of 15-24 year olds have no schooling. In SSA and South

Asia more than one-third of youth were still classified as illiterate in 2002. The

availability of primary schooling in rural areas is improving rapidly in many

countries, but the quality of education remains generally very low and is even

declining in some countries.

There are also major concerns about the relevance of schooling in rural areas.

Curricula are criticised for not adequately preparing children for productive rural

lives and, worse still, fuel youth aspirations to move to urban areas. Calls persist

for the vocationalisation of schooling in rural areas, despite the fact that previous

initiatives to do so have failed in most countries for both supply and demand-side

reasons. Governments and other providers should, therefore, focus on delivering

reasonable quality basic education. The current push for eight years of universal

basic education in most countries means that most children will not complete

their schooling until they are 15-16 years old.

Given the endemic problems of rural schooling with high drop-out rates, support

for non-formal education programmes has increased considerably during the last

decade. For example, Morocco‟s Second Chance schools target 2.2 million

children between 8 and 16 years old who have never attended school or have not


completed the full primary cycle. More than three-quarters of this group live in

rural areas and about 45 per cent are girls. The Bangladesh Rural Advancement

Committee model of non-formal education is now being replicated in number of

countries, including several in sub-Saharan Africa.

Human capital-skills training

The rural world is changing rapidly in most countries. Rural youth must,

therefore, be equipped with the requisite skills to exploit new opportunities.

However, the provision of good quality post-school skills training (both preemployment

and job-related) remains very limited in most rural areas. The key

issue in many countries is that national vocational training systems have been

unable to deliver good quality and cost-effective training to large numbers of

both school leavers and the currently employed. It is essential, therefore, that all

training is based on precise assessments of job opportunities and skill


Many governments would like to establish extensive networks of rural training

institutions, but do not have the necessary resources to do this. Most evaluations

have found that the cost-effectiveness of youth-related rural training is generally

low (Middleton et al, 1993 and Bennell, 1999). Typically, training services are

fragmented and there is no coherent policy framework to provide the basis of a

pro-poor rural training system. There are some notable exceptions, mainly in

South America – for example, the countrywide rural training and business

support organization, SENAR, in Brazil.

The key challenges in providing high-quality training and extension services for

rural youth are low educational levels, poor learning outcomes, scattered

populations, low effective demand (from both the self-employed and employers),

and limited scope for cost-recovery. Church organizations and NGOs have

supported much of the vocational training for rural school leavers in many

developing countries, but funding constraints have resulted in significantly

reduced enrolments in many countries during the last decade. The stigma

attached to vocational and technical education is another major issue in most

countries. Poor employment outcomes are a common weakness of rural training

programmes. For example, about one-half of the young people who participated

in the India-wide Training of Rural Youth for Self-Employment have been unable

to find employment. However, some training initiatives have been very

successful. Farmer Field Schools in east Africa and the Fundacion Paraguaya are

notable examples (see boxes). In Uganda, the Programme for the Promotion of

the Welfare of Children and Youth has provided good quality training, particularly

in remote rural and war affected areas. Colombia and Nicaragua also have

successful rural training programmes for youth.

The capacity of service providers to support rural clienteles, especially rural

youth, in all key sectors – such as education, health, policing, justice, rural

infrastructure and agricultural extension – needs to be strengthened significantly

in most countries, which has major implications for higher education and training

systems. Agricultural education at all levels also needs to be revitalized.


Farmer Field Schools in East Africa

FAO, other UN agencies and NGOs are supporting the

establishment of Farmer Field Schools in East Africa. The schools

combine FAO‟s popular Farmer Field School teaching methodology,

which is designed to teach adult farmers about the ecology of their

fields through firsthand observation and analysis, and the Farmer

Life School, which uses similar analytical techniques to teach

human behaviour and AIDS prevention.

A recently conducted comprehensive impact evaluation of Farmer

Field Schools in Kenya, Tanzania and Uganda by a team from the

International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI) concluded that

participation increased income by 61 per cent across the three

countries as a whole. The most significant change was for crop

production in Kenya (80 per cent increase) and in Tanzania for

agricultural income (more than a 100 per cent increase). The main

reason for these positive impacts is that adoption of new

agricultural technologies and innovations is significantly higher

among farmers who attend the schools. Another key finding is that

younger farmers are more likely to participate in the schools than

older farmers in all three countries and that female-headed

households benefited significantly more than male-headed

households in Uganda (Davis, 2009).

The San Francisco Agricultural School in Paraguay

The San Francisco Agricultural School is run by the Fundacion

Paraguaya. The school‟s curriculum combines the teaching of

traditional high-school subjects and technical skills with the

running of 17 small-scale rural enterprises, most of which are

based on the school‟s campus. All enterprises are strictly based on

existing market demands and, for this reason, the income

generated from them covers all the running costs of the school,

including teacher salaries and depreciation. All of its students are

productively engaged either in wage employment or selfemployment

within four months of graduation. Teacher

accountability is very high because their own salaries are directly

dependent on the immediate success of the school‟s enterprises

(ILO, 2008).

Training and capacity-building activities now comprise an important component

of IFAD-supported activities and absorb up to 30 per cent of resources in some

projects. Since key target groups are often illiterate or have little formal

schooling, this presents additional challenges for providing effective training. A

good example of IFAD support in this area is the Skills Enhancement for

Employment Project in western Nepal, which targets Dalit and other seriously

disadvantaged rural youth. The project has an ambitious goal of ensuring that

70 per cent of all trainees are in productive employment after six months. The

project is implemented by ILO and is based on the ILO‟s Training for Economic

Empowerment methodology, which is firmly rooted in participatory planning


approaches and market-driven enterprise development. The Prosperer project in

Madagascar is another good example of a new generation of youth-oriented

projects being funded by IFAD. It seeks to improve the income of disadvantaged,

poor youth in three regions of the country by providing diversified incomegenerating

opportunities and promoting entrepreneurship in rural areas. A total

of 8,000 young people will be supported over the next five years.

Access to land and natural resources and land tenure security lie at the heart of

all rural societies and agricultural economies and are central to rural poverty

eradication. Growing populations, declining soil fertility and increasing

environmental degradation, the HIV/AIDS pandemic and new opportunities for

agricultural commercialisation, have all heightened demands and pressures on

land resources and placed new pressures on land tenure systems, often at the

expense of the poor and vulnerable groups such as women and youth. In many

developing countries inheritance remains the main means for young people to

access land. Typically, though, it is sons who inherit land, and daughters only

gain access to land through marriage. Ongoing sub-division of land through

inheritance has resulted in fragmented and unviable land parcels and

increasingly the youth are becoming landless. The HIV/AIDS pandemic has

resulted in increasing land grabbing of widows‟ and orphans‟ lands by male

relatives of the deceased, particularly in Africa. Increasing landlessness amongst

the youth has resulted in an increase in inter-generational conflicts over land.

Lasting solutions to land tenure insecurity of the youth could include: the

strengthening of legislation and legal services to women and youth in order to

recognize and defend their rights to land; the development of land markets as

mechanisms for accessing land; and perhaps most importantly, the identification

and promotion of off-farm economic activities that target the youth.

Young people tend to view agriculture as an unsatisfactory option unless they

have secure control over family lands. In Tanzania, as part of the national action

plan for youth employment, labour intensive rural infrastructure development

has been actively supported among youth groups in „green belts‟ around major

urban centres. The programme has also supported youth to own land by

allocating areas for youth infrastructure development and enacting laws to

protect youth from discrimination in leasing land.

Financial capital - micro-finance and enterprise development

As the 2005 World Youth Report points out „entrepreneurship is not for everyone

and so cannot be viewed as a large-scale solution to the youth employment

crisis‟ (p.59). Nonetheless, there is growing interest in the targeted provision of

micro-finance for youth, because it is recognized that, education and training do

not on their own usually lead to sustainable self-employment. To date, however,

services in this area remain limited. Numerous problems have been encountered

in pilot projects. The lack of control of loans by youth borrowers is a major issue,

screening mechanisms are weak, and intensive training is needed in how to

make best use of the money. Youth, and especially the very poor, are also

frequently reluctant to borrow money. Integrated packages of inputs (credit,

training, advisory support, other facilities) are often necessary, but this imposes

major demands on organisations and significantly reduces the number of

beneficiaries. Agricultural and enterprise development extension staff should be

much trained to work with young people.


The recent experience of the Population Council with micro-credit schemes for

youth highlights the overriding importance of specific contextual factors in

determining outcomes and impacts. In other words, what works in one place

may fail completely in another (Amin, 2010). One of the largest youth credit

schemes is currently being funded by IFAD in Chongqing Province in China,

where more than 100,000 returned migrant workers have been provided with

microfinance and training in order to start a variety of agricultural and rural


IFAD provides substantial support for non-farm enterprise development, but

most projects in this area have not (at least until very recently) had any specific

focus on rural youth. Nonetheless, youth have benefited from these

interventions. The success of what has become a national network of village

banks in Benin is a good example. Similarly, as part of the IFAD-funded rural

enterprise project in Rwanda, 60 per cent of the 3,500 young people who

completed six-month apprenticeships either started their own enterprises or

continued to work as full-time employers in the enterprise where they were

apprenticed. In Uganda, IFAD (through the Belgian Survival Fund) provided

US$ 3 million funding between 2000 and 2004 to the development programme of

the Uganda Women‟s Effort to Save Orphans (UWESO). Loans were made to

7,000 households with AIDS orphan members, with an overall loan recovery rate

of 95 per cent. In addition, 655 orphans were trained as artisans. However, as is

invariably the case with project-elated training activities, insufficient data is

available about the subsequent employment activities of these trainees to be

able to reach firm conclusions about the cost-effectiveness of this training.

Public employment generation

Rural public works programmes are substitutes for unemployment benefit or

income support systems in countries that cannot afford such systems. If properly

designed, they can perform the role of a guaranteed employment scheme for the

disadvantaged of all ages and they can be used to identify self-selecting groups

of young workers who are most in need. However, a key conclusion of the World

Bank Youth Inventory study is that “few public works programmes targeted on

youth seem to lead to high employment chances for participants.”

Employment creation for rural youth in NENA

Sizeable enterprise development projects for young people are

being funded by IFAD in Egypt and Syria. In Egypt, the focus is

mainly on agro-processing and marketing activities in key

high-value and organic agricultural export sectors. Private banks

will manage loans and close links will be established with

agricultural exporters. The project is being implemented through

community development organizations, which will take the lead in

identifying youth participants. It is expected that 30,000 jobs will

be created by the project during its eight-year lifetime. The project

in Syria focuses on promoting youth enterprise in agricultural

marketing activities in a poor area of the country.



A broad consensus exists that the rapid scaling up of rural youth development

policies and programmes must be based on a multi-sector approach with close

coordination and partnerships between a wide array of public and private

organizations. Youth networks and partnerships have to be established and

effectively used at local, national and international levels.

The presence and impact of international and national youth development

organizations and initiatives continues to expand rapidly in all developing country

regions. There are already a number of international global networks that focus

on youth development. The FAO Rural Youth Development Programme is

expected to play a major coordinating role, but lack of resources has prevented it

from doing so in recent years. The Youth Employment Network (YEN), which was

launched jointly by the United Nations, the World Bank and the ILO in 2001 to

address the problem of unemployment among young people has been

increasingly active. Currently, there are 21 YEN Lead Countries, all of which have

developed comprehensive national action plans for youth employment. The

Network is also expected to regularly benchmark youth policies and programmes.

The Commonwealth Plan of Action for Youth Empowerment is another similar

international initiative. An Inter-Agency Network on Youth Development has also

been recently established by the UN.

The International Youth Foundation, which is the most prominent international

civil society organization in this area, seeks to mobilize the global community of

businesses, governments and civil society organizations. To date, it has provided

grants to nearly 350 organizations in 86 countries. Major corporate sponsors

include Merrill Lynch, Microsoft, Starbucks, Samsung, and Nokia. Its highest

profile initiatives are Entra 21, which equips disadvantaged youth in Latin

America and the Caribbean with information and communication technology and

life skills, and its Global Partnership to Promote Youth Employment and

Employability. However, most of its programmes are oriented mainly to formalsector

employment in urban areas. Poorer countries also tend to be underrepresented

in its activities.

Establishing effective national youth development strategies is a major

challenge. As the current World Development Report notes, “influencing youth

transitions requires working across many sectors, yet few countries take a

coherent approach to establish clear lines of responsibility and accountability for

youth outcomes.” There is a need for long-term coordinated interventions, which

are part and parcel of a much broader national integrated strategy for rural

development, growth and job creation.

At both the national or sub-national level, where rural youth can be identified as

a high-priority social category with distinct development and livelihood

improvement needs, IFAD should concentrate on developing strategic

partnerships with other organizations that focus on improving the livelihoods of

youth, and rural youth in particular. This is especially important in IFAD‟s own

core areas of mandated activity, namely increasing agricultural and

non-agricultural productivity and employment and income generation. However,

IFAD should also contribute to policy formulation and implementation in other

key areas, such as curriculum development for agriculture courses.



The urgent need to intensify development efforts on rural youth is increasingly

recognized by governments, civil society organizations, and international

development agencies. This is reflected in a variety of exciting new initiatives

that seek to improve the livelihoods of disadvantaged rural youth. The overriding

challenge is to unleash the energy and creativity of young people living in rural

areas, especially those who are the most marginal and vulnerable. Rural youth,

and especially young women, need to be empowered to become agents of

innovation and social actors capable of developing new, viable models of rural


IFAD is increasing its support for rural youth programming. As part of this effort,

IFAD is collaborating with the ILO to review strategies and programmes for

promoting productive employment among rural youth in developing countries.

Given the enormous challenges these young people face, this support should be

intensified in the future with rural youth mainstreamed in all IFAD policies and


The development of coherent, comprehensive national policies on rural youth

should become a top priority for all governments, but this must be backed up

with more research. The prominence of national action plans for youth

employment should also be increased, and it is essential that they are fully

embedded in other key national planning documents, especially PRSPs. This

should be closely linked with increased efforts to promote youth participation in

all areas of policy making.

Finally, the knowledge base of what works needs to be strengthened rapidly,

especially with regard to innovative, strongly pro-poor rural youth development

projects and programmes that have been successfully scaled-up.



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review of interventions to support young workers: findings of the Youth

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D.C., World Bank.

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(2009) Impact of Farmer Field Schools on agricultural productivity, poverty and

farmer empowerment in East Africa. Washington, IFPRI.

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Programme. Rome, FAO.

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existing interventions. Paper presented to workshop in the World Bank on 7

February 2005.

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countries- prevention as a well as a cure. Mimeo.

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poverty-alleviating growth in the rural non-farm economy in developing

countries, Washington D.C., IFPRI.

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employment and employability. Baltimore, IYF.

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World Bank.

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York, United Nations.

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Washington D.C., World Bank.


Maria Hartl

Technical Adviser

Policy and Technical Advisory Division



International Fund for

Agricultural Development

Via Paolo di Dono, 44

00142 Rome, Italy

Telephone: +39 06 54591

Facsimile: +39 06 5043463


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