Action urgently needed for rural youth in poorest countries, says new UN report

 More effective policies and investments could help the world’s poorest countries offer a future to hundreds of millions of marginalized rural young people, according to a new UN report.

The UN International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD) 2019 Rural Development Report shows that around 500 million young people — about half of the youth population of developing countries — live in rural areas. Prone to poverty and inequality, they face a range of challenges including lack of training and skills, limited access to land and credit,  scarce inputs and restricted links to social networks. 

Of particular concern is sub-Saharan Africa, where the rural youth population is projected to rise from 105 million in 2015 to 174 million by 2050 – a 70 per cent increase in countries with limited capacity to respond.

“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,” said IFAD President Gilbert F. Houngbo. “But with the right policies and investments, those young people can drive economic growth in rural areas and improve life in their communities.”  

Among rural, semi-rural and peri-urban young people, 67 per cent live in areas with strong agricultural potential, but many have limited access to markets. With greater access to skills training, markets, financial services and technologies, these young people could become more productive, connected and in charge of their own future.

But policy-makers need to act quickly, warns the report, pointing to the impacts of climate change on agriculture, the need to seize the opportunities presented by the digital revolution, and the growing aspirations and demands of young people themselves.

The report emphasizes that youth policies can’t be deployed in isolation but need to be part of a broad, strong rural development policy.

“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,” said Paul Winters, IFAD Associate Vice President.

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