The global food demands will double by 2050 as the population increases. Concurrently, climate science suggests that our agricultural production methods need to adjust to less predictable rainfall, warmer temperatures and more frequent extreme weather events. Several major research reports demonstrate that agriculture could address climate change, unemployment, urbanization, desertification, water pollution, among other environmental challenges.
With these escalating challenges of food and climate change, it is in the interest of development organizations, governments, private sector, and communities to invest in agricultural practices that are adaptive to climate change; that lower or prevent associated greenhouse gas emissions; that generate income for farmers; and that ensures food security.
Climate Smart Agriculture (CSA) fulfils these needs; champions the international development community. It is agriculture that sustainably increases productivity, resilience (adaptation), reduces or removes greenhouses gas emissions (mitigation), and enhances achievement of national/global food security among other development goals. Its elements which comprise of effective practices - ranging from conservation agriculture, agroforestry, watershed management among others - are already practised by pockets of smallholder farmers across the globe and could be scaled out to increase productivity .
With increasing vulnerability of communities to climate change impacts and projected future impacts of climate change, it is urgent to adopt and scale out the CSA practices and innovations across the world, particularly in developing countries where most of the food is produced. However, the ageing population of farmers is less likely to understand this urgency, let alone develop the capacity to adopt these innovations. A new generation of farmers is required.
There is increasing worldwide momentum that recognises young people as the new generation of food producers. Smallholder farmers in developing countries supply up to 70 per cent of the world’s food . In these countries too, over 40 percent of the population are young people, who face increasing unemployment rates. For instance, two-thirds of the population across sub-Saharan Africa are below the age of 25 years. Of these, 44 per cent are below 15 years of age. As food demand increases, there will be a growing pressure on these younger people to feed the future and contribute meaningfully to their national economies.
Young people can substantially contribute to agriculture and rural development, but often, systemic challenges hold them up:-
- The prevailing perceptions and attitudes towards agriculture mainly acquired when growing and schooling. The current generation of young people have been socialized to look down upon agriculture as a dirty, unproductive, and poor man’s activity for the unschooled, and instead value white collar jobs. Unfortunately these are not forthcoming, and the world populations continues to increase demanding more food ;
- Lack of an enabling environment for prospective young farmers including access to productive like land and capital, markets, research and partnerships;
- Lack of a favourable political environment for the agricultural sector at a national, regional, and international level, for instance in trade, infrastructure, transfer of technologies etc.;
- Inadequate skills and skills mismatch among the youth (e.g. in production, processing and business skills). Education reforms have failed to produce skilled workers, while the teaching of entrepreneurial skills and behaviours is often not properly integrated into school curricula and may not teach students self-reliance and risk-taking;
- Generational gap, for instance in the transfer of indigenous farming knowledge from adult farmers to young farmers;
- Labour market discriminations often result into a high rate of young women unemployed, or underemployed. The lack of employment –promoting strategies in most countries and culture often further compounds this challenge; and
- Other impacts of globalization that hinder prospective young farmers including urbanization, economic uncertainties, and price volatilities among others.
These notwithstanding, young people bring several thrusts to CSA as a solution to food security, climate change, and inclusive economic growth. To start with, they easily adopt and adapt new knowledge to fit their needs. The current generation of young people are leading in ICT innovation and application in varied sectors of health, finance, education, security, and agriculture among others. Young people are energetic, dynamic, with an increasing number getting educated. This means they are effectively on a pathway to obtain appropriate skills in CSA and related livelihood enhancement approaches. The third thrust comes from the youth dividend. Offering over 40% of the world population, particularly in developing countries where most of the food is produced, and where there are approximately 11 million youth joining the labour market every year, CSA promises opportunities for youth self-employment and job creation. Finally, the need for young people to create independent spaces of action well fits into the context of CSA as they create employment through the value and supply chains, as well as in diversified investments in CSA.