Increasing Youth Engagement in Feed the Future
A key goal of Feed the Future is to increase youth empowerment and livelihoods, because supporting and empowering youth can help to sustainably reduce global hunger, malnutrition and poverty.
With one third of the total population — about 2.3 billion people —between the ages of 15-34 years old, there is no better time to focus on youth. About 80 percent of these young people live in developing countries. The largest youth populations are in Sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia, where youth un/under-employment is high.
Currently, the formal labor sector cannot provide enough jobs for the millions of young people entering the workforce each year. Since the formal sector will not be able to meet demand, most youth in developing countries will need to rely on self-employment, micro-entrepreneurship or mixed-livelihoods (i.e. earning income from multiple activities) to earn their livelihoods.
Further, population growth is increasing global demand for food, adding stressors to existing agri-food systems. To feed nine billion people by 2050, there is a need to sustainably increase productivity and efficiency of agri-food systems.
The global food system is the largest employer of youth. It will remain an important source of livelihoods opportunities for youth, especially off-farm activities and through value chains (e.g. processing, marketing, etc.), as these opportunities are often more profitable and more interesting to young people compared to small-scale, production agriculture.
Simply put, youth need agriculture, and agriculture needs youth.
Though youth empowerment and livelihoods has been further elevated in Feed the Future’s approach to ending hunger and poverty, intentional youth engagement in programming is relatively new in the initiative. In the first iteration of Feed the Future, youth participation in programming was not tracked, and few programs focused specifically on engaging youth.
To address these challenges, we recently released the Feed the Future Project Design Guide for Youth-Inclusive Agriculture and Food Systems, a tool to help Feed the Future partners better integrate and increase engagement of youth aged 15-29 in the work that we do. There are two volumes of the Guide: the first aims to support youth engagement in program design throughout the program cycle, and the second offers implementation guidance for activity-level interventions.
Key Takeaways from Volume One of the Guide:
Seek youth participation throughout the entire USAID program cycle.
- Examples include: engaging youth to inform program design, including youth as part of the implementation team, hiring youth as data collectors to support monitoring and evaluation, or partnering with local youth-led or youth-serving organizations
Enlist the expertise of a Youth Specialist/Advisor in project design, especially for projects or activities that focus on youth as the primary participant/beneficiary.
- Examples include: designating a program staffer as the Youth Point of Contact or hiring an experienced Youth Advisor for the activity who could train other staff members on meaningful youth engagement in agri-food systems
Acknowledge and appreciate the heterogeneity of young men and women, and identify the specific age-appropriate youth cohort(s) to be included in or focused on by the project/activity
- Youth are heterogeneous in many areas including gender, socio-economic status, ethnicity, nationality, religious affiliation, geographic location, sexual orientation and health status, among other factors. It is important to consider these factors in order to understand how programs might optimally support and engage youth.
Conduct a youth analysis to inform the different stages of project design. If a stand-alone youth analysis is not an option, integrate youth analysis as part of the mandatory gender analysis and/or Mission-led value chain analysis.
- A youth analysis is important in order to gain a strong understanding of the status of youth in the area where programming will take place, any challenges that youth may experience when engaging in agriculture and food systems, their strengths, livelihoods aspirations and how planned programming might best support them to achieve their goals
Apply a Positive Youth Development (PYD) lens and approach to intentionally integrate young people into the agri-food system, based on evidence-based approaches.
- Positive youth development engages youth along with their families, communities, and/or governments and other key stakeholders, so that youth are empowered to reach their full potential. PYD approaches build skills, assets and competencies; foster healthy relationships; strengthen the environment; and transform systems.
Determine if an activity should be youth-specific or youth-inclusive
- Youth-specific programs intentionally target youth and only include youth, for reasons that include demographics, political imperative, and/or disproportionate barriers to youth in that system.
- Youth-inclusive programs are designed to reach youth as part of a broader target group by removing and/or accounting for barriers that may prevent or diminish the participation of young people and are preferred by Feed the Future efforts so that youth are engaged in and empowered in programming more broadly.
Key Takeaways from Volume Two of the Guide:
Identify value chain entry points that are both relevant to and accessible by young people.
- Consider the different opportunities to engage youth in diverse values chains. This is an important step because it helps to understand where youth are already working and identify opportunities for youth where their engagement might be increased. Some considerations for value chain entry points for youth are how relevant (e.g. profitability, time to return on investment, skills match, etc.) or how accessible (e.g. land or capital requirements, engagement of other value chain actors, etc.) they are to youth. As youth may be less interested in production level agriculture, the value chain entry points might look more into input provision, post-harvest handling, processing and marketing.
Ensure that workforce training prepares youth for the demands of the value chain entry points but also develops transferable skills that enable youth to upgrade and tap into new opportunities as they emerge over time.
- What skills do youth already have? What skills do they need to perform the task? What skills are transferable? While technical skills, literacy and numeracy are important, other “non-cognitive” skills such as critical thinking, leadership, effective communication and self-control, among others, are also important to effectively engage in the workforce.
Offer youth continued support through mentoring, internships, job intermediation and market facilitation services.
- Continued support and mentorship are important to ensure that youth are able to continue to effectively pursue their goals. Programs might consider partnering with youth-led or youth-serving organizations so that youth may continue to receive support even after the program ends. Providing support to young people during the program and then leaving them to fend for themselves once the program ends is a disservice to young people.
Consider the entire enabling environment that influences youth decisions and behaviors, including family, community, institutions and policies/norms.
- There are many factors within the enabling/supportive environment that influence a young person’s ability to most productively engage in agri-food systems. These factors include, but are not limited to: age cohort, sexual orientation and gender identity, food security and/or nutritional status, ethnicity, religion, poverty, social support network, access to health and other services, education level, home/family life, technical and non-cognitive skills, climate events or other shocks, areas of high violence or conflict, political enabling environment, supply chain challenges, legal structures and land tenures, economic geography, cropping system, knowledge of and access to technologies, etc.
Apply a conflict-sensitive youth lens when integrating youth into agriculture and food systems in areas affected by conflict.
- Young people living in a conflict setting are more vulnerable than others, so programs must consider how different factors within the enabling environment might affect youth, especially relating to their mental health, safety and access to services.
Apply a "youth lens" to intentionally integrate young people into the agriculture/food system throughout the program cycle using a Positive Youth Development approach to ensure quality implementation based on evidence-based approaches.
- While the evidence is building around "what works" and best practices related to engaging youth in agriculture and food systems, the evidence base should be consulted in program design. As mentioned, positive youth development should also always be incorporated.
This is just a short overview of Feed the Future’s youth programming. For more details, please refer to volumes one and two of the Guide. For additional information, please consult the resources in the sidebar.
During the month of August, Feed the Future staff — working in areas including market systems, resilience and civil society — and youth leaders from around the world will be sharing blogs about their work to engage youth in agriculture. Stay tuned!