Rural youth: who are they and how can we create opportunities for them in rural areas?

These questions were at the center of discussions at the Regional Implementation Forum for IFAD-supported projects in West and Central Africa. The meeting took place from 14 to 18 March in Abuja, Nigeria and was jointly organised by IFAD and the Government of Nigeria. It brought together more than 300 representatives from IFAD-financed projects, governments and development partners in the region.

Group Picture © IFAD | D. Paqui
Young rural people represent a significant portion of the agricultural workforce and they play a major role in the development of rural areas. With their innovative ideas and motivation, young women and men have a great potential to contribute to the well-being of their communities. But young people are increasingly abandoning agriculture and rural areas in search of better livelihood options in cities or abroad. The opportunities available to young women and men in rural areas are often restricted, and unemployment, underemployment, poor working conditions and exploitation are serious concerns. Young rural people are often involved in the informal sector and as unpaid family workers with no social protection and limited opportunities for advancement.

In addition, a range of access gaps constrain the productive potential of young rural people. Difficulties in accessing land is a major factor inhibiting young people's participation in agricultural activities, and young women in particular, have few opportunities to access land. Constraints in accessing financial services prevents young women and men from investing in land or starting their own businesses in the rural non-farm sector. And limited access to markets and new technology makes it equally difficult for young people to participate in agricultural value chains or set up new businesses.

Nigeria's Minister of Agriculture and IFAD's President © IFAD | D. Paqui
IFAD's programme of work is increasingly reflecting the needs and views of young rural people. IFAD-supported projects and activities focus on enabling the transition to employment by involving young rural people in skills and vocational training, supporting an environment that generates decent jobs for young people on and off the farm, and by providing support to young entrepreneurs. They also aim to enable young rural people to gain access to the resources, inputs and services they need to be productive. And through its work, IFAD aims to improve the participation of young rural women and men at all levels of society and facilitate the organization of young people. When young people participate in community decision-making and take management roles in local organizations, they improve their own situations while contributing their energy and creativity to their communities.

There was a consensus that IFAD’s de facto target group in West and Central Africa are young rural women and men. Youth inclusion will increasingly be mainstreamed in IFAD-funded projects by:

- Involving youth representatives in design, supervision and evaluation of IFAD-supported projects
- Building capacities and skills
- Improving access to assets, inputs, agri-services and finance
- Promoting youth role models to make agriculture more attractive
- Facilitating networking between young people

WCA Director with youth role models © IFAD | D. Paqui
One full day of the Forum was also dedicated to IFAD’s work on climate and environment in the region. Poor rural people in West and Central Africa face a series of interconnected natural resources management challenges. They are in the front line of climate change impacts; the ecosystems on which they rely are increasingly degraded, their access to suitable agricultural land is declining, their forest resources are increasingly restricted and degraded, many produce on marginal rain fed land, with increased water scarcity; and declining fish and marine resources threaten essential sources of income and nutrition. Participants agreed to mainstreaming environment and climate change action by:

- Raising awareness and strengthening capacity
- Dedicating more financial and human resources to ECC
- Integrating tools for vulnerability analysis
- Developing simplified M&E systems to enable timely decision-making
- Enhancing implementation of GEF and ASAP projects

Finally, discussions were held on how to improve portfolio performance. Effective and efficient project management is key to achieving results and impact. Participants committed to building a management-for-sustainable-results culture by:

Group discussions © IFAD | D. Paqui
- Ensuring the selection of competent teams
- Strengthening leadership skills of project coordinators and fiduciary management
- Building capacity for strategic planning (including procurement and realistic AWP&B) to ensure sustainability of results
- Developing simple M&E systems as a management tool for documenting results, learning and timely decision-making
- Strengthening local institutions
- Promoting the scaling up of best practices