Young people are the future. But all too often in today’s world young women and men are marginalized and excluded – from decent employment and from crucial decisions about how to address the big challenges that face us all. Their voices are rarely heard in democratic debate and their needs and views are rarely reflected in policies and programme.
Yet more than ever the world needs young people’s ideas, their talents and their energy. In rural areas, we particularly need their drive and innovative skills to sustainably produce the food required by an increasingly populous and urbanized world.
Young people aged 15 to 24 make up 17 per cent of the developing world’s population. In the least developed countries alone, 15.7 million young women and men will join the working-age population every year between 2010 and 2050.
Many of them will live in rural areas and work outside the formal sector. Today in sub-Saharan Africa, for example, 62 per cent of young people work on family farms, where they are often unpaid and unprotected. Given the sheer numbers of young people reaching working age, the potential of a so-called “demographic dividend” is great, but so is the risk.
Integrating young people into productive society boosts their countries’ economic growth while also contributing to political stability and social harmony. If we fail to bring young women and men into the economic mainstream, we will lose the contributions of this generation while raising the likelihood of social unrest.
These facts have shaped IFAD’s agenda more and more in recent years. They are reflected in our current strategic framework, which calls for “creating viable opportunities for rural youth”. And they are seen in the programmes and projects we support, which increasingly work directly with young rural people and prioritize their needs.
I am pleased to see that youth issues are also increasingly on the global agenda. For example, the United Nations System-Wide Action Plan on Youth (Youth SWAP) represents a real opportunity for UN agencies, including International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD), to create partnerships that serve young people better.
The international community is now formulating the post-2015 development agenda. All parties clearly recognize that inclusivity and equity are crucial for broad and sustainable poverty reduction. This is a golden opportunity to reverse the marginalization of young people, and especially of young women and men outside the cities. Modernizing food production systems, providing green energy, addressing environmental degradation and climate change, and driving growth in rural areas all require their dynamism and creativity.
We know what we need to do to support young rural people. We must provide high-quality education and relevant training. We must create an environment that generates decent jobs with opportunities for all young people.
We must enable them to gain access to the resources, inputs and services they need to be productive. We must also recognize that migration will be the right choice for some young rural people, and we must help make it a good choice that is safe and rewarding. And we must support young people’s genuine participation in their communities and nations.
Working in partnership with young rural people and their organizations to make all of this possible is central to IFAD’s programme of work. It is also indispensable to creating a more equitable, just and sustainable world.
Amb Abdullahi Bindawa DSC, UN Security Expert. Nigerian educator, Humanitarian worker and was the most widely recognized young leader in the Africa continent