Youth and Agriculture Programs: Oil and Water or Oil and Vinegar?
Oil and water? Seemingly, that’s how youth and agriculture programs have evolved—as separate entities that resist being mixed together. The resistance comes from both sides. Traditional agricultural programs often focus on adults, throwing in youth targets only if required. And traditional youth programs often shy away from agricultural livelihoods, which are seen as holding no appeal for young people.
I was one of those young people. I emphatically rejected the idea of following my family into agriculture, but now see things differently. Through my work at Making Cents International, I have witnessed first-hand how agriculture can transform the lives of young people and how engaging youth in agriculture creates immense value for both. Youth gain sustainable skills, livelihoods, incomes, and a path to greater resilience and a brighter future, while agricultural programs benefit from the influx of early adopters with new energy, forward-looking ideas, and flexible approaches to meet an ever-changing environment.
At Making Cents, we are convinced that new and holistic technical approaches are required to achieve this symbiosis. We must address the specific needs of youth in different settings and at different stages, as well as pervasive barriers—both real and perceived—that bolster the “oil-and-water” image. Limited income-generating opportunities for rural youth and high start-up costs are two of these barriers. Image is another, particularly if it conjures up incessant, boring, grimy work that yields small and slow returns.
No, oil and vinegar. Instead of oil and water, Making Cents likens youth and agriculture programs to oil and vinegar. These mix remarkably well in the right combination, creating a new and unique product and nourishing results.
For example, in Liberia, Making Cents worked to change youth perceptions of agriculture, introducing them to value chains and enterprises where they could make good money quickly.
In South Sudan, we addressed adult perceptions of youth that limited their engagement in agricultural activities and supported their identified preferences for seed production and horticulture.
For us, Positive Youth Development (PYD) is a key component: a philosophy and approach that represents a paradigm shift for youth development programs. We have demonstrated that agriculture is an ideal platform for PYD. This is the topic of the next blog in this series. In the interim, it will be well worth your while to read more about PYD here.