Platform for African – European Partnership in Agricultural Research for Development

Tuesday, August 22, 2017

Rural transformation, cereals and youth in Africa: What role for international agricultural research?

Published August 18, 2017
Rural transformation, cereals and youth in Africa: What role for international agricultural research?
10 pages

Young people are increasingly linked to targeted agriculture and food security interventions. In Africa, the argument is that the combination of agricultural value chains, technology and entrepreneurship will unlock a sweet spot for youth employment. This article examines this argument from a rural transformations perspective. 
Agricultural research organizations have been prompted to take steps to engage with youth. For instance, the CGIAR (, a global agricultural research partnership, includes reference to youth in its latest Strategic Research Framework (CGIAR Consortium Office, 2015), and in 2015, it required all proposals for the new round of CGIAR Research Programmes (CRPs) to articulate how they propose to engage youth.
A framework is proposed with which to analyse young people’s economic room to manoeuvre in different rural contexts and the differential abilities of young people to exploit associated opportunities. Using cereal agri-food systems as an example, the article identifies two new research areas that address important knowledge gaps: how young rural people in Africa engage with these systems and what pathways they use to become engaged. To address these questions, we propose an analytical framework built around key contextual factors that constrain or enable young people’s economic activity. By pursuing the proposed research agenda, international agricultural research could make important contributions to both agricultural policy debates and development-oriented interventions.

The existing policy narratives and programme approaches linking youth, agricultural development and food security are problematic

  1. First, they frame issues such as limited access to land and credit as youth-specific, ignoring the structural nature of these constraints; that is, in most situations, these issues affect other social groups as well as youth. They also conflate situations where young people may be systematically discriminated against in their access to productive resources, with circumstances in which young people, by virtue of being young, are more likely to have fewer assets, less status and less access to resources than older people. 
  2. Second, they assume that the opportunity to engage with value chains is open to all young people independent of the rural environment in which they live and their individual circumstances. 
  3. Third, they accept a broad conception of entrepreneurship, to the point where any income generating activity is seen as reflecting entrepreneurial behaviour. 
  4. Fourth, they rely on essentialist thinking, suggesting that all young people share particular characteristics, such as being ‘innovative’ of having a particular mindset. 
  5. Finally, they tend to conceive of young people as isolated economic agents, ignoring the fact that their economic activity is deeply embedded in and dependent on networks of family and social relations.
Studies of different young people who have successfully navigated the barriers to their establishment as commercial cereal farmers or in associated economic activities would be particularly valuable. A focus on middle countryside areas characterized by agricultural intensification and commercialization will be most valuable. (...) Using comparable research frameworks across different thematic and geographical settings, the CGIAR’s portfolio of CRPs would be well positioned to generate meaningful and scalable insights. (page 8)

There is a need to step back from the premise that research needs to explain whether, or how, rural young people can be enticed into agriculture. Projected rural population increases and the need for economically viable farm sizes capable of producing surpluses for rapidly growing urban centres suggest neither a countryside devoid of youth nor the need for a massive effort to retain rural youth in agriculture. (page 8)

Finally, we caution against attempts to introduce ‘youth mainstreaming’ in international agricultural research. The experience with gender mainstreaming in international development has been mixed, and an insistence on youth mainstreaming may reduce the intellectual agenda to concerns with age-disaggregated data and formulaic ‘youth participation’. (page 8)

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