Sustained Rural Youth Livelihoods

Source: IFAD (Ghana Rural Enterprises Project)

A livelihood is considered sustainable when it can cope or recover from stress and shocks, maintain or enhance its capabilities and assets, and provide sustainable livelihood opportunities for the next generation (Chambers & Conway, 1992). Five elements that are related to this have been identified by Scoones (1998). These include:

  • Livelihood strategies that create productive employment. This could be off-farm or part of a waged labour system or subsistence production.
  • The poverty level which provides an indication of whether livelihoods are sustained or not.
  • The capabilities and well-being of people which relate to what people can do or be with their entitlements. It goes beyond human capital into the valued elements of capability or well-being such as happiness, self-esteem, stress etc.
  • Livelihood adaptation, vulnerability and resilience which explores the ability to recover from shocks. Those who are unable to cope will inevitably not achieve sustained livelihoods.

How does this relate to young people? Well, there are several factors that determine an individual or households’ ability to pursue some of the elements addressed above. Among these is the fact that people (all age groups and gender) have different priorities and thus the type of livelihood strategies pursued are dependent on the basic material, social tangible and intangible assets in their possession (Scoones, 1998).

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The Population Dynamics

Source: World Bank Atlas of Sustainable Development Goals

Demographic trends indicate that population increase will largely take place in developing countries. The United Nations population projections show that the world population of 7.2 billion in mid-2013 will increase by almost 1 billion people in the next 12 years (UNDESA, 2013). This will reach 8.1 billion by 2025, 9.6 billion by 2050 and 10.9 billion by 2100. The additional 3.7 billion people will live in developing countries. They will be distributed among the population aged 15 to 59 (1.6 billion) and 60 or over (1.99 billion) (UNDESA, 2013).

Currently, the total world population is made up of 45 % residing in rural areas and 55 % in urban areas (WorldBank, 2017). In low-income countries, this figure represents 68 % residing in rural areas and 32 % in urban areas. A large part of this consists of young people. The population of young people in the world today aged 15 to 29 is over 1.8 billion, 87 % of whom are living in developing countries (Commonwealth, 2016). In Africa and across Asia, there is a growing population of young people comprised of adolescent and young adults (Yeboah, 2018).

Nearly 1 million people turn 18 every month in India (Yeboah, 2018). The population of young people aged 12 to 24 living in Africa is expected to rise by 28 %  in 2040, while the share of other regions is estimated to decline by a proportion of 17.6 % from 2010 to 13.5 % in 2050 (UNDESA, 2011). The regions of Asia and the Pacific is projected to have the steepest decline from 61 % in 2012 to 52 %  in 2040 (UNDESA, 2011)

The position of rural youth as a distinct group varies across regions and is subject to change over time (FAO, 2010a). While in East Africa the percentage of rural youth in 2005 was 16 %, the figure for South America in the same year was 3.4 % (FAO, 2010a). In most regions the proportion of rural youth has declined since 1950 and an even greater decline is anticipated for the future (IFAD, 2014e). Although the proportion of rural youth is decreasing, in terms of absolute numbers it will keep increasing until the mid-century (IFAD, 2014e). These demographic trends  highlight that youth will continue to constitute a high proportion of the rural population.

Implications of Climate Change on Rural Youth

Source: State of Israel Flickr

There are very few studies that highlight the impacts of climate change on rural youth. On the one end, this group tends to be submerged in the gender discussions, which while relevant, tend to overlook aspects that are specific to the social group. Hence, the limited studies on the implications of climate change on rural youth.

There is growing evidence that indicates changes in natural systems, these include  enlargements and increase in glacial lakes, changes in arctic ecosystems and increased discharge in glaciers and snow-fed rivers (IPCC,2014). The impacts of these changes will be felt throughout the natural and human systems. It is anticipated that these will affect agricultural systems on which most livelihoods are dependent on.

Agriculture and rural non-farm based activities have been deemed as harnessing untapped potential to absorb the millions looking for employment, particularly in regions with land scarcity issues (White, 2012). However, employment in agriculture in the developing regions of Africa, Asia, the Pacific, Latin America and the Caribbean is declining for both young and adult workers (FAO, 2010a). This is mostly a result of low agricultural productivity that is due to unfavourable agro-ecological conditions, poor agricultural technologies, poor market access and lack of investment capital (FAO, 2010a). These conditions do not provide a favourable environment for rural youth to explore agriculture as a potential option for employment. With young people facing challenges of unemployment and underemployment, increased climate variability could result in  agriculture as potential livelihood option  becoming obsolete.