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Small-scale farming and youth in an era of rapid rural change

by Felicity Proctor, Valerio Lucchesi in 2012

The prospects of rural youth finding decent work in many countries of the developing and emerging economy worlds, particularly in Africa and SouthCentral Asia, is limited. The opportunities for work outside agriculture in these sub-regions make the situation for young rural people particularly precarious. While acknowledging that issues of youth and youth employment are rising up the
international policy agenda, there remains a low level of policy and investment intervention that focuses explicitly on rural youth and on youth employment opportunities in the agriculture and agribusiness sectors. Given the dependence on small-scale farming for food production and for food security domestically, regionally and globally and for its capacity to absorb labour, how small-scale farming is supported, how youth respond to farming opportunities and whether farming, including smallscale farming and the evolving agrifood sector, can meet the aspirations of youth, will be critical for both future food security and employment. Despite a growing disillusionment on the part of rural youth with livelihood and employment opportunities offered by the agriculture sector, innovations in small-scale farming are emerging, in particular in the peri-urban environment and in new and changing agrifood market chains, which are attracting the youth. There is an urgent need to build on such innovations and to share lessons learned. This paper focuses on developing and emerging economy regions of the world. It provides an overview of the demographic changes and trends in employment, specifically that of youth, and an overview of small-scale farming and trends in agrifood markets. It reflects on the aspirations of rural youth and identifies some of the drivers and innovations that have engaged youth in agriculture – and which might help to inform and shape the future. Finally, it identifies some emerging policy implications that address small-scale farming and youth in an era of rapid change, including knowledge gaps which if filled could better inform the debate on the future of small-scale agriculture and on who will be the next generation of farmers.