Creating a “new rural reality” for young entrepreneurs to succeed

By Monica Romano

The young women and men who gathered at IFAD on Saturday for the Youth Session not only have clear ideas, but do not seem discouraged by the challenges and constraints they are fully aware of and that have even been already experiencing themselves. Coming as representatives and leaders of farmer organizations or invited as participants in IFAD-supported programmes, they showed enthusiasm and commitment to making FAFO somewhat different, maybe more special, compared to the past. Simply by having their voice being heard for the first time in such an important dialogue and partnership platform. Perhaps also knowing that the youth do not have that many opportunities to speak with the world of the adults, present their views and proposals, and even make recommendations, especially in the international arena and in front of policy makers. What impressed me although it did not come as a surprise was the strong awareness and sense of responsibility the young participants demonstrated in all their interventions and contributions, in several ways. Sometimes, I perceived they were feeling to be like “elected”, in the positive sense. I mean, they understood that they were representing the youth community as a whole, and therefore that they had to take advantage of this unique opportunity, avoiding to make mistakes and making sure they did not miss anything they would regret afterwards…

While putting on the table a number of challenges the rural youth face – limited decision-making, experiences and leadership skills, self-confidence but also trust from the older generations; and also those that may be common to their parents, such as limited access to land, credit, training and market – the young participants were also proud of highlighting their many, specific strengths: creativity, flexibility and energy, just to mention a few. One of the biggest challenges they debated upon was the lack of interest on the part of young generations in engaging in agriculture: “there is no pride in being farmers” - stated someone – and “one may even not be able to find a wife if he is a farmer”, echoed another participant. It was made clear that there is need to raise the profile of agriculture, starting early on, from the school. This may be challenging, if we consider that young generations have been seeing their parents struggling in agriculture. Therefore, in order for channelling the message of farming and farmers as good, young people also need to see business opportunities in agriculture, need to become entrepreneurs engaging in a “profession”. This was the world used by the IFAD President, who joint the unusual gathering to listen to the youth’s recommendations.

This final stage of the day was really when the youth proved once again to understand what they want and wish for as well as their ability to articulate their demands not without coming up with concrete proposals. It was unanimously recognized the need for FOs to become ‘youth-sensitive’, not only in terms of representation but also in effective decision-making of young members. Young people also called for youth-focused agricultural development projects and programmes and for participating in project design, implementation, and M&E. In this regard, IFAD-supported projects should systematically include rural young women and men as a target group, with specific support being provided and monitored. Young farmers also expressed the need to enhance their skills and showed they are aware of alternative approaches to the conventional “in-door/face-to-face training”: liaising with students in agricultural institutions or getting exposed to on-the-job experience by working with a successful farmer entrepreneur. Being trained and guided was felt as key also in addressing the issue of young people’s limited access to credit, which should be combined with advice for the business activity to be feasible and sustainable. While recognizing the deep value of indigenous and traditional knowledge, young people indicated that they aim at transforming agriculture through innovation: using media and ICTs and exploring for new opportunities (such as niche markets and agro-turism). All this and much more were the young women and men discussing and recommending to IFAD, farmers’ organizations and their Governments – to create a new rural reality in which to grow as successful entrepreneurs.