Feed the Future
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Inclusion is a Win–Win: Using Market Systems Development to Engage Youth in Agriculture

Markets are complex systems that involve people vibrantly exchanging goods and services. The crux of inclusive markets is the ability of any person to participate in and benefit from (as producers, consumers, or wage earners) this pulsing supply and demand network. Inclusive markets lead to more prosperous individuals, families and communities. This article presents a few simple, yet crucial aspects of successfully engaging youth in agriculture through development of inclusive market systems.

Undertake age- and gender-focused market analysis

Every market systems development approach begins with strong market analysis to diagnose what supports or impedes better performance. This is a key opportunity to investigate the opportunities and barriers that affect young people of different ages and genders. Without this segmented understanding of how markets function, market facilitation efforts are not likely to lead to more inclusion.

Market actors hold biases that influence how markets work; for example, they may hold the belief that some work should be done by men, not women, or that youth are unreliable. Further, youth face market constraints specific to their age and gender sub-groups; for example, young people and women are less likely to own or control land, or have access to capital.

A youth- and gender-focused market analysis, coupled with strong situational analysis that engages youth, their families, and others would reveal (1) young people’s current and aspirational activities in agricultural markets, (2) the market actors’ perception of youth, and (3) mutually beneficial opportunities.

Incorporate a Positive Youth Development approach

A market systems development approach promises much-needed scalable impact. However, even if market facilitation is highly successful at creating incentives and opportunities for youth, if they do not have a supportive environment, many young people might be unable to take advantage of them. Among other things, youth need inspiration and a sense they can succeed. Yet, this is often lacking. For instance, a girl or young woman's parents or husband may not support the idea of her working or she may not have the confidence to try.

USAID supports a Positive Youth Development (PYD) approach to youth engagement that considers a wide set of factors that enable young people to reach their full potential. The PYD approach seeks to build skills, assets, and competencies; foster healthy relationships; and strengthen the environment and systems that affect young people. Taking a PYD approach can help unlock some of the barriers a market systems development approach strives to address, especially around market actors’ incentives. PYD may involve investment in direct services approaches for youth—peer-to-peer outreach, and work with parents and families—alongside more indirect market systems development approaches.

Starting points for engaging youth in market systems development approaches must meet young people where they are. Interventions with youth in earlier stages of life would focus more on work readiness and the development of critical cognitive skills; with older youth, the emphasis would be on full-on market entry or retention and expansion.

Market inclusion does not mean girls, boys, women, and men are automatically better off. There are unintended consequences. Some harm can come from change—power relations shift; there are inherent risks in engaging agricultural activities; there are winners and losers in markets; gender-based violence could occur; increased activity in trading centers might support higher HIV incidence among youth; or intergenerational conflict can happen. Market strategies should identify and have plans to mitigate such risks, including shaping incentives and practices in the private sector to value and promote safe and beneficial inclusion.

Actions: Facilitate incentives to the private sector and youth

The private sector’s role as a key driver of economic opportunity is front and center in market systems development approaches, which work to leverage incentives that foster sustainable inclusion at scale. To capitalize on the private-sector‘s engagement, we need to carry out the following:

  • Learn more about private-sector incentives and approaches to working with youth, particularly female youth, who often face more barriers to participation.
  • Learn more about what inspires and enables young people to take up market opportunities in different contexts.
  • Ensure program activities are designed based on strong, participatory youth-focused market analysis.
  • Make the business case for working with youth.
  • Expand the evidence base for inclusion in market system development interventions.
  • Work to shift perceptions of both youth and businesses around young women’s and young men’s roles and abilities.
  • Create opportunities for young people to learn more about technologies (not just digital) that make agricultural work easier and more productive, and about off-farm agriculture.

Two examples of creative ways to leverage market incentives to promote inclusion are (1) Mercy Corps’ work on developing the business case to work with women in agriculture as consumers, not just producers; and (2) Mastercard’s DYNAMIC program in Uganda, which worked with businesses to engage female youth in the production of ginger that can be undertaken with a small portion of land near the home and with limited tending, thus creating flexibility to perform other tasks.

The more inclusive markets are—of women, young people, and others who can earn a livelihood and emerge from poverty, the more gain for everyone—the markets, these individuals, and their families, communities, and societies as a whole.

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