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Can agriculture solve youth unemployment?

Published:Monday | January 31, 2011 | 12:00 AM

Tyrone Hall, Contributor

Youth unemployment is one of the most acute problems affecting developing countries. A lack of basic education ranks high among the reasons for this problem. However, youth unemployment is compounded by the fact that a large portion of the population in developing countries tends to be youth.

The formal economy is unable to create enough employment opportunities to absorb this constant supply of labour-seeking youth. Whatever the solution to this multilevel problem, a great deal of coordination and deft thinking will be required to attract gadget-loving and efficiency-prone young people into the agricultural sector.

Among the most trendyand, perhaps, viable 'solutions' being touted today is greater youth involvement in rural development through agriculture. However, youth participation in the agricultural sectorin many developing countries is very low, largely because the sector is highly unattractive - due to risks, costs, inefficiency and its labour-intensive nature.

As such, motivating the youth to view agriculture as a career opportunity will require a multilevel intervention. In the first instance, those within the school system must be targeted, the second, those outside the school system must be lured and sensitised. How should this be done? Simple! Teach them by delivering age-appropriate information inside and outside the formal school system and dangle the carrot.

Integrate into curricula

The absence of agriculture from the curriculum, particularly at the compulsory levels of education, should be addressed. The current mode of education in most developing countries is geared towards educating white-collar workers, which doesn't reflect the economic and social context for which they are being trained. This is not to suggest that developing countries shouldn't plan for economic expansion. However, those plans should not negate the existing needs of the economy.

One response is to encourage partnerships with the education sector to integrate agriculture into primary- and secondary-school curricula. In many instances, agriculture is incorporated as an optional component that is taught with minimal enthusiasm; its broad-based and compulsory inclusion with the appropriate resources will help to motivate youth towards having a more favourable view of employment opportunities in the agricultural sector.

Similarly, those youth outside the formal education system must also be targeted and wooed towards agriculture. This may be done through a comprehensive, national out-of-school livelihoods project designed to meet the needs and expectations of today's youth.

Tapping into interests

Young people are often turned off by the many plagues affecting the agricultural sector, such as praedial larceny - organised criminal activity geared at perpetuating the theft of agricultural stock - and information asymmetries which cause ineffective marketing. There ought to be the creation of ongoing initiatives to support youth in agricultural enterprises, and opportunities to showcase their successes in order to attract more young people. There should also be the incorporation of information communication technologies such as the Internet, mobile phones, computers, and global positioning systems, associated or not with traditional communication techno-logies such as radio, television, print and video.

With this in mind, the emerging Youth in Agriculture Strategy must demonstrate a clear understanding of the youth's affinity for technology, efficiency and a strong voice in the decision-making processes. The strategy must also emphasise the need for the incorporation of agriculture in the regular curriculum.

Tyrone Hall is a graduate student and Compton International Fellow at Clark University. Email feedback to