Rural youth population rising in agriculturally rich areas, but …

A new, global report explains why unemployment rate among rural men and women has tripled since 2011-12

By Richard Mahapatra
Published: Wednesday 19 June 2019

This is what we know, and is convinced about: The world is getting younger and angrier. A new study, the 2019 Rural Development Report, just added a dimension to unemployment among the rural youth, not only in India but also the world.

The demography of the global rural is changing, according to the report by the United Nations' International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD). It has, for the first time, aggregated several studies to calculate population trend as well as economic futures of rural youth.

The youth population is increasing across the globe, but more in Asia and Africa. Within the segment, the rural youth population is growing faster. And a significant percentage of them are in developing and least-developed countries (LDC).

“Effective policies and investments are urgently needed if the world's poorest countries are to offer a future to hundreds of millions of marginalised young people living in rural areas,” according to the report.

Nearly a billion of of the world’s 1.2 billion youth (aged 15-24) are in developing countries, where rural youth account for half the youth population.

Clearly, the rural youth has a higher concentration in developing countries and LDCs. Also, the growth is theor population is higher in these countries.

“Their numbers are growing far more rapidly in lower-income countries than in higher-income countries, particularly in rural areas,” according to the report. Two-thirds of the rural youth of the world are in Asia and the Pacific followed by 20 per cent in Africa. The continent's share is projected to increase to 37 per cent by 2050 and that of Asia-Pacific to reduce by 50 per cent.

This bulge in these rural young population comes at a time when these areas neither have impressive economic growth nor diversified livelihood sources. Most young people inherit agrarian sources of livelihoods.

But, with population increasing and agriculture not being able to sustain a lucrative sustenance in general, the critical question is: Where would these people be employed?

Consider this fact: Close to three-fourths of the rural youth live in countries where agricultural value-addition is among the least. “Young people have a tough time escaping poverty by engaging in farming activities in these countries; most will earn a better living by transitioning into other sectors,” the report claimed.

The trend is observed in India as well. A significant percentage of the rural, young unemployed in the country is found in states like Uttar Pradesh and Bihar — primarily agrarian states with a very high young population looking for alternative livelihood source than farming. However, in comparison to African countries, India does have higher level of non-farm employment.

At the same time, the study argues, it does have huge potential to gainfully absorb the new work force despite agriculture not being the preferred source of livelihood. Close to 67 per cent of rural youth live in areas that have high agricultural potential.

“Failing to act risks creating a lost generation of young people without hope or direction, which contributes to an increased risk of forced economic migration and fragility,” Gilbert F Houngbo, IFAD president, said.

So, potential of agriculture is not a constraining factor for the rural youth to take up farming as a vocation. But why they don’t reap a good harvest and price are the main reasons.

The report said land fragmentation, impact of climate change and access to market for produce were much bigger threats — also reasons for recent streets protests by Indian farmers.

If this group’s farming productivity is low; the reason lies in a lack of access to the necessary markets, both for inputs (especially improved seed, fertiliser and water) and for outputs (whose sale would provide incentives for investing in productivity gains), according to the report.

"But with the right policies and investments, those young people can drive economic growth in rural areas and improve life in their communities," Houngbo said.

But are countries, particularly those with high rural youth population, doing so?

Going by a survey of 57 youth strategies of various countries mentioned in the report, the answer is not encouraging. It flags why agrarian policies targeted at the youth are urgently needed.

Only 40 of them “considered rural youth development in some way” and 15 included “at least one specific policy objective or programme targeting rural youth”. At the same time, 17 of them had no mention of rural youth. Another interesting finding of this survey is that policies focused on rural youth were not adequately addressed in term of high rural youth population. 

"A broad, strong rural development policy combined with a clear policy of including young people, is the best way to help millions of young people around the world," Paul Winters, IFAD's associate vice-president, said.

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