Engaging Youth in Agricultural Extension and Advisory Services
This blog is written by Kristin Davis, IFPRI, and Steven Franzel, ICRAF
We said in an earlier post this month that we can’t talk about the future without mentioning youth. But what do youth (defined by the UN as ages 15-24 and the AU as ages 15-35) have to do with agriculture or agricultural extension? Aren’t most young people trying to get out of rural areas and are not interested in agriculture?
Well, it’s not actually true that youth are not interested in agriculture. They are interested in rewarding careers, exciting technology, and earning incomes – and guess what, these do exist in agriculture (and extension). ICT innovations in particular attract young people to agriculture, retain young farmers, and help reverse negative perceptions among the youth.
For those of us working in extension and advisory services, the rising youth population seems to present a challenge: the growing pressure for countries to create economic opportunities for this growing segment of the population. But can’t this challenge be an opportunity as well?
The Feed the Future Developing Local Extension Capacity (DLEC) project examined youth in extension and advisory services in Guatemala, Niger, and Rwanda. The objective was to design programs to support and strengthen the inclusion of youth in extension – both as providers and recipients of extension services. DLEC believes that supporting and strengthening the inclusion of youth in extension will improve their economic opportunities and livelihoods and increase the effectiveness of extension and advisory service systems – something DLEC is trying to achieve.
The diagnostic studies by DLEC showed a number of key points.
- There are many exciting, innovative initiatives in the youth and agricultural extension area that include young men and women as both providers and recipients of extension.
- The initiatives involve capacity strengthening, internships, coaching and mentoring, professional and paraprofessional extension and advisory services, policy advocacy, support for networks and platforms, providing credit or linking farmers to credit facilities, linking youth to job opportunities and strengthening local organizations conducting such activities.
- While many organizations do have youth in agriculture programs, they are often piecemeal and not holistic, that is, they do not cover the range of activities beginning with needs assessment, foundational (e.g. functional literacy) and technical training and extending to internships, coaching/mentoring, entrepreneurship, and assisting youth to start and sustain businesses or obtain employment.
- Most organizations didn’t differentiate among youth and considered that youth are a homogenous group. This lack of differentiation can result in a disproportionate number of programs focused on youth that are most visible and easiest to help – such as those with a university education. By focusing on the most visible youth, the vast majority, who are female and live in rural areas, are largely ignored.
- In the policy area, youth in agricultural extension, either as providers or recipients of extension, has not been mainstreamed into governments’ implementation strategies.
- There was relatively little use of ICT in agricultural extension, which tends to have great appeal for youth.
- No data were available on the longer-term effects of outputs and outcomes on youths’ incomes or livelihoods.
Where do we go from here if we want to invest in youth in extension and advisory services? First, think holistically using differentiated youth segments when preparing and implementing programs. Secondly, strategize and plan how to engage different youth segments as providers or recipients of extension, including use of ICT. Finally, be sure to monitor and collect data on youth engagement by gender and measure the impacts of programs on youth.