There are some interesting experiences in IFAD-funded operations, but they have tended to be piecemeal – they need to be scaled up and systematised. And it isn’t just about creating new and more profitable economic opportunities, in and around agriculture, as well as in non-farm employment and services. It’s also about rural areas being better places to live, of being (far) better equipped in terms of services and infrastructures, less isolated and better connected (roads, radio, internet, telecommunications and more. And not being the backwaters that young people just want to run away from. Life in rural areas needs to become better for women for whom city life means –more often in their dreams than in reality – escaping from the daily drudgery of fetching water and fuel, hard work in the fields which is largely unrewarded, headloading produce to distant markets….. Basic services for rural development and wellbeing, schools and health centres, often suffer from chronic difficulties in recruiting an retaining staff, who also find living in rural areas difficult and/or unattractive…
There will simply be no future for rural economies unless rural development efforts manage to use and retain the talents and energy of young people. This we realize fully here in IFAD. But the challenges are many - and interconnected. Apart from the general situation of rural areas which I recalled above, factors which specifically affect rural youth include:
- scarcity of land;
- high mobility of rural youth (within rural areas and between rural and urban areas);
- lack of conditions for young people to access sufficient capital to invest in gainful enterprises with a future;
- infrequent consultation of rural youth in programming and policy-making;
- lack or low quality of skills and vocational training, also poorly matched with labour demand;
- low investments in the kinds of services that young people seek (internet connectivity, recreation, sports…);
- limited voice and representation of the young in farmer organizations;
- cultural norms and intergenerational conflict which limit and delay the autonomy of the young…and many more.
As in the case of women, empowering young people socially, politically and economically is an issue of profound social change, which is not without tensions.
Let’s use the International year of Youth as an opportunity to listen to young people, to share learning on what works, to strengthen partnerships that can carry forward a new action agenda for rural youth.
Senior Technical Adviser, Gender and Poverty Targeting, IFAD