To unlock the potential of youth in agriculture, we need targeted, inclusive interventions that appeal to specific and diverse groups of youth, especially female and differently-abled youth. Towards this goal, customized training sessions for young women, and hearing-impaired youth from the Wa School for the Deaf were conducted in Ghana recently, focusing on behavior change communication that incentivizes choice of improved varieties and quality seeds of cereals and legumes. The sessions were tailored to address the sustainable development goals (SDGs) of zero poverty, zero hunger and gender equality.
The promise of expanding markets and increased demand for food products from a growing global population would suggest more incentives to engage in farming, making the sector attractive for the current and next generations. However, agriculture is facing unprecedented challenges. Possibly because of this, agriculture – particularly smallholder food production, widely believed to contribute to increased food production and rural poverty reduction – is less likely to draw in young people as a preferred choice of work.
Youth are commonly treated as an undifferentiated group with essential, static qualities and little agency. However, the youth are a differentiated group, with diverse experiences, ideas and aspirations. These aspirations are shaped by factors across local, regional and even global scales. While there are opportunities for youth, many of their needs, including agricultural ones, remain largely unmet, with more limitations for females due to local norms. Also, agribusiness, which is a vital sector for youth living in poverty across Africa, is one where differently-abled youth face some of the greatest prejudices and exclusion.
Therefore, opportunities should intentionally be planned with and extended to female and male youth groups of different social spectra. Enabling youth to tap into the available opportunity structures needs transformative approaches that include (i) targeting to ensure inclusive participation; (ii) customized interventions that equally benefit all types of youth groups; and (iii) providing a conducive social, economic and policy environment.
In Ghana, several youth with hearing impairment, such as those from the Wa School for the Deaf, found that they could not access information on improved crop production, which resulted in their reliance on traditional methods of crop production, as well as recycling of seeds for production. Under the AVISA project and others, led by ICRISAT in collaboration with CSIR-SARI and the CGIAR Research Program for Grain Legumes and Dryland Cereals, these youth were part of a training on groundnut seed production, marketing and processing in the Upper West Region of Ghana. The training was supported by Wa School and Antika Seed Company, a major seed company in the region.
After the training session, the participants were all smiles, realizing that they are now seen as equal members of the community with shared challenges but also similar opportunities to benefit from and be empowered to overcome their specific challenges. As active members of the farming community, their inclusion and participation in the groundnut value chain activities will boost their livelihood and productivity. This sense of belonging alone gave them a feeling of playing on a level field.
The training focused on developing an organized group of groundnut producers to understand the market potential in groundnut seed production and marketing and as well developing sustainable market linkages for the commodities produced. Key areas of the training included groundnut seed production, quality control of seeds, seed business development, concept of the Village Savings and Loans Association (VSLA), group dynamics for sustainable grassroot organization among seed producers and processing of groundnut into confectionaries of high nutritional and market value. The training on group dynamics will also facilitate gender equality in the discharge of group activities, since group membership is made up of female and male young farmers with diverse religious and cultural backgrounds.
A total of 300 youth aged 15 to 35, out of which 30 were from the Wa School of the Deaf obtained the training. In a welcome address, Mr Sylvester Bayor, Headmaster of the school, appreciated ICRISAT for including this most vulnerable population in the project. He was emphatic the youth will embrace the learnings wholeheartedly since this is the first time they have had the opportunity to partake in a project activity of this nature.
By targeting and reaching out to every gender and social group, the outcome of the training will engender greater adoption, production, marketing and utilization of improved groundnut varieties. The Gender Research Team extolled the trainings noting that “extension should shift from focusing only on production but also be innovative and market driven; while emphasizing the need for inclusiveness of all gender groups especially the youth, and people with living with disabilities, so no one is left behind.
This story also appears on the CRP-GLDC website here: http://gldc.cgiar.org/targeting-and-investing-in-the-most-vulnerable-is-crucial-for-meeting-the-sdgs/
Jummai Othniel Yila, Scientist- Gender Research, ICRISAT, WCA Bamako, Mali
Desmond S. Adogoba, CSIR-SARI, Ghana