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By Monica Romano and Zoumana Bamba

The story of a young farmer without land kicked off the discussion and experience sharing around what are the needs, expectations and challenges of rural young people and what institutions like IFAD can do to enable them become the leaders of tomorrow and build a promising future for themselves, their families and the communities they live in.

Start with nothing, but dream big. This is the story of a young entrepreneur, Leonard. Supported by the Songhai Centre after 18 months of training, Leonard rented a piece of land from the Centre and has been busy setting up a vegetable garden. Only a year after, Leonard’s life has changed. He is able to sell the harvested cabbage, carrot to the market with a support from the Songhai Centre. This was the beginning of his success. He has put some of the profit back into the business to buy a variety of seeds, thus having a vegetable of products to sell. Leonard is a shining example of the importance of persistence and commitment, in spite of initial difficulties. Leonard has become a proud young man earning an honest living from Agriculture. Another story which illustrates that agriculture can be attractive to a young generation looking for opportunities and that one can make money from it.

George Fernandez, President of the International Movement of Catholic Agricultural Rural Youth (MIJARC), stressed that agriculture is key to eradicating rural poverty and hunger, and that there is need to invest in rural youth to boost the agricultural sector, while supporting policies that can facilitate their engagement in agriculture. Over the past year, MIJARC has been implemented an IFAD-supported grant to map young farmer organizations, in collaboration with FAO. The grant aims to find out the reality of rural young people by mapping their own farmer organizations or those in which young people are represented. It also act as a platform for the rural youth express their views and explain their condition though a survey addressed specifically to them and the hosting of regional consultations in Africa, Asia and Latin America. Through these gatherings, young people are invited to share their experiences and indicate the support they need to become successful farmers and entrepreneurs.

Some of the main outcomes of the mapping exercise was presented by Charlotte Goemans (FAO), who showed that only a quarter of the surveyed farmer organizations was found to consist only of young members, whereas the majority of “mixed” organizations have nevertheless more than 50% young farmers as members. The figures increase slightly when data refer to Africa.

In reporting from the consultation that took place in Dakar at the end of August, Clemence Roger (MIJARC) meaningfully started by quoting from young people who participated in the event: “Rural youth are not aware of their rights” stated a Moroccan guy, echoed by another participant from Cote d’Ivoire, according to whom “ young people do not have enough experience in advocacy and lobbying”. The young people had a lot to say and made a number of recommendations indicating the way forward to successfully partner with them and effectively achieve objectives of rural development and rural poverty reduction. Education and capacity building programmes need to be defined together with the rural youth, and women need a special attention in order to ensure equal participation and mainstream gender considerations in selecting both themes and timing of the training. Young people also indicated that they should be involved in design and implementation of rural development policies, projects and programmes as well as to be adequately represented in farmer organizations.

A lively discussion took place after the various presentations across the session, with the facilitation of Philippe Remy, IFAD Country Programme Manager for Mali, and the moderation of Nora OurabahHaddad, Rural Employment and Institutions Officer at FAO. It was highlighted that innovation and creativity characterizing the youth should not forget about the importance of intergenerational transfer of knowledge from the more experienced farmers to today’s generation. The challenges of identifying farmer organizations that are really representing their members also apply to institutions of young people or those dealing with issues pertaining to them. It was also noted that the negative image of agriculture already starts to get built within the family, and then is consolidated at school and finally at the university. Finally, it was concluded that the approach to address youth-related issues needs to be holistic and that agriculture cannot be dealt with as a separate segment.