As you point out, IFAD Independent Office of Evaluation (IOE) produced an evaluation synthesis report (ESR) of rural youth in 2014, which reviewed all 24 project performance assessments (PPAs) and thirteen country programme evaluations conducted since 2004 that offered information on the experience with pro-youth development. The synthesis also considered all new designs, supervision and implementation support reports for loan and grant funded activities, as well as country strategic opportunities programmes (COSOP), and triangulated through interviews with country programme managers. According to this ESR, IFAD started enhancing its focus on the rural youth in 2004 with the introduction of its Rural Enterprise Policy and took it to the next level with its Strategic Framework for 2011-2015. This Strategic Framework had rural youth development as key principles of engagement. Following this, IFAD began to mainstream youth across most of its country programmes and issued a youth policy brief and a guidance note on how to design pro-youth investments in 2013. It should also be noted that in its current funding period (2019-2021), IFAD’s Rural Youth Action Plan has set a target of 50% of its loan portfolio to be youth sensitive, requiring youth dimensions be carefully analysed and assessed when designing projects.
The 2019 Rural Development Report of IFAD argues that the dwindling numbers of youth engaging in agriculture should be situated within the context of rural development and wider economy that can create opportunities and minimize risks for the rural youth. Policies and investments are necessary to enable the three foundations for rural youth development: productivity, connectivity (to markets, people, services, ideas and information), and agency of the youth. It noted that in 2014, 122 countries had a national youth policy. Yet, a review of 57 national youth policies showed that of these, 17 did not mention rural youth at all, and only 15 included at least one specific policy objective or programme targeting the youth. This calls for advocating for national youth policy to address rural youth. However, experience also shows that having a policy may not always translate into benefits for rural youth because number of countries with large rural populations suffer from weak implementation and institutional capacity.
The ESR reiterates these findings. It notes that many countries lack appropriate incentives and investments in youth, commensurate with the need for increasing the production to ensure food security and transforming agriculture into a rewarding business. In addition, it also noted that the need to develop capacities of young rural people, especially those of young women to contribute to sustainable agriculture, food security, and rural transformation often remain unrecognized within national budgets and programmes.
How did IFAD respond to needs of the rural youth?
The ESR reviewed 32 relevant IFAD policies, strategies and guidelines developed during the period 2003-2013 and noted that fourteen included explicit references to rural youth, of which only the following three present considerable details on pro-youth development: i) the 2004 Rural Enterprise Policy reflected the importance of off-farm sector for youth livelihood; ii) the 2008 Policy on improving access to land an tenure security; and iii) the Strategic Framework 2011-2015 committed IFAD to mainstreaming youth concerns in every area of its engagement.
As part of this new commitment, in 2012 FAO and IFAD jointly worked with a youth-owned INGO, the Mouvement International de la Juenesse Agricole et Rural Catholique (MIJARC) on a project which noted that rural youth do not foresee a future for themselves in the agricultural sector. This is mainly because of the lack of profitability of agricultural activities and lack of infrastructure and social facilities in rural areas. However, it found that youth would be ready to become modern farmers if they were given the opportunities and conditions to address these challenges. To facilitate this, the 2012 Farmer’s Forum adopted a Youth Declaration that included recommendations for IFAD and partner governments to increase investments in youth-specific interventions and enable youth’s access to land, markets, financial services and knowledge.
In response to the Youth Declaration, IFAD appointed youth focal points in each of its five regional divisions with specific mandate to support mainstreaming youth concerns in its country programmes. The regions worked closely with Global Youth Innovation Network (GYIN). For instance, the West and Central Africa region of IFAD had members of GYIN participate in several design and supervision mission and solicited their technical support to design country programmes. Second, the Strategy and Knowledge Department (SKD) and Policy and Technical Division (PTA) of IFAD systematized knowledge and collection of good practices related to pro-youth development and produced a Youth Policy Brief in 2013.
Reviewing the performance of country programmes and projects, the ESR found that projects that deliver the best pro-youth development results are those that adopt genuine community-driven development (CDD) approaches and offer tailored rural enterprise/finance development support. Successful interventions usually target youth and offer them assistance that is different from those offered to the adult population. The findings also indicate that socio-economic profiling to accurately targe, and Socio-economic analysis is critical to identify key bottlenecks to decide on the most suitable assistance. These lessons also underscore the importance of establishing project management set-ups where the youth are given the opportunity to participate, and the need for assessing institutional capacities to work with the youth and shape the project partnership strategy on that basis. In implementing the interventions, the ESR found that most related IFAD projects lacked operational M&E systems and age disaggregated monitoring indicators. In fact, the review found that only half of the Fund’s pro-youth interventions were monitored at country programme level and that this possibly hampers IFAD’s ability to learn and scale up the models that work.
In conclusion, the reasons for taking fully into account the youth dimension in rural development and agricultural activities are self-evident. Developing countries will be able to take advantage of their youth dividend only if adequate investment is made in developing human capital of youth and in providing them with decent work opportunities. Moreover, the estimated requirement of a 70% increase in food supply to meet the demand of a growing population by 2050 necessitates the participation of youth. Agriculture will need to become a financially rewarding business to be able to attract the capacity of the youth to innovate and take risks. Efforts are under way and evolving in IFAD to focus on pro-youth development, codify and learn from emerging evidence and lessons. To do so, IFAD learns from multiple sources, such as evaluations, research (Rural development report 2019), engaging with Youth (GYIN, MIJARC), and tracking and analysing performance, etc. Evaluations such as the ESR are critical in identifying the gaps in organizational learning from different sources, and verify if the organization is on track to improve its performance related to pro-youth interventions. The ESR showed that research efforts and youth engagement are improving pro-youth IFAD programming. However, more and better monitoring and evaluations are needed understand what works and innovate to engage rural youth and thereby, transform the rural and national economies of developing countries.
Evaluation Synthesis: Rural Youth (2014), Independent Evaluation Office, IFAD.
Rural Development Report: Creating Opportunities for the Rural Youth (2019), IFAD.