Panel: Targeting youth livelihoods in horticulture


A panel focused on improving youth livelihood options and offering opportunities to youth brought together professionals for a robust discussion about various types of agricultural programming to engage youth during the Horticulture Research for Development Conference, "Colorful Harvest: From Feeding to Nourishing a Growing World," held March 26-27, 2019, in Washington, D.C.

The panel included:

  • John Bowman, Senior Agricultural Advisor at USAID's Bureau for Food Security (moderator)
  • Macani Toungara, Director of Program Development at TechnoServe
  • Mamadou Thiam, Chief of Party for the Horticulture Innovation Lab's Horticulture Training and Services Center in Guinea
  • Lisa Lauxman, National Program Leader for USDA NIFA Center for International Programs

Topics of discussion included the advantages of horticulture in entrepreneurial youth engagement and various types of agricultural programming and considerations when engaging youth.

John Bowman: Integrating youth in USAID programs

Bowman discussed various aspects of integrating youth in USAID programming, including reviewing the strategic imperative to engage youth, the importance of positive youth development, understanding adolescent brain development, how youth engagement should be integrated into project design, and reiterated the USAID Bureau for Food Security's commitment to youth engagement.

USAID's YouthPower project defines positive youth development (PYD) as engaging youth along with their families, communities and/or governments so that youth are empowered to reach their full potential. PYD approaches build skills, assets and competencies; foster healthy relationships; strengthen the environment; and transform systems. 

USAID's working definition of "youth" includes people who are 10–29 years old, which can include several phases of human development: 

  • Early Adolescence: 10-14 years old
  • Adolescence: 15-19 years old
  • Emerging Adulthood: 20-24 years old
  • Transition into Adulthood: 25-29 years old

Bowman also discussed aspects of the adolescent brain, which is fully developed in the mid-20s. The last part of the cortex to develop is the pre-frontal cortex which is responsible for planning, making decisions based on rational thinking, controlling impulses, organizing and setting goals. The limbic system, the part of the brain related to sensory processing, emotions, and instincts is more dominant in adolescence.

Needs and characteristics of adolescents and youth change at different points of their lives. Thus, there is a need to design development strategies that can meet adolescent and youth needs at various stages. Key features of successful youth engagement include: 

Bowman also discussed Hart's Ladder of Youth Participation, which classifies a spectrum of youth involvement and engagement, from "manipulation" at the lowest rung of the ladder — activities where youth are encouraged to do as directed without a full understanding the purpose of the activities — to the eighth and highest rung of the ladder, where youth initiate activities and share decision making with adults. Lower levels of engagement where youth have little understanding, no input in planning or minimal opportunities for feedback (youth as decoration or tokenism) are discouraged. 

Bowman explained that Feed the Future is moving toward a strategy that applies PYD best practices and explicitly integrates youth into Feed the Future projects. The team is actively working to build staff understanding of youth development and best practices. Bowman's presentation also discussed resources for youth mainstreaming and highlighted example youth efforts through the Bureau for Food Security, including projects by the Soybean Innovation Lab, WorldVeg, Horticulture Innovation Lab, and Sustainable Intensification Innovation Lab. 

Macani Toungara: Strengthening Rural Youth Development Through Enterprise (STRYDE)

Toungara spoke about Technoserve's work helping rural youth in East Africa attain economic independence in partnership with the MasterCard Foundation.

The STRYDE program links agricultural value chain development with entrepreneurship and youth economic development. It provides youth with business and life skill training, opportunity identification, linkages to markets, finance and employment opportunities while building capacity and offering incentives for long-term training providers.

STRYDE has reached nearly 67,000 youth in Kenya, Rwanda, Tanzania and Uganda through partnerships with local vocational training institutes, government partnerships, prisons, NGOs, CBOs, agricultural colleges, community development colleges, university student organizations and a district council. The STRYDE training model including training with curriculum adapted regionally with aftercare and ongoing support for learning and new engagement activities in agriculture, employment, business and/or schooling.

Youth involved in the program create a versatile and mixed portfolio of income activities, including agriculture, micro-enterprise and formal employment,  in an effort to hedge risks and make ends meet. Agricultural production remains central, with formal and informal wage employment is often rare or nonexistent in rural areas. Entrepreneurship is a desired activity, but requires youth to navigate more risk. 

For youth who are engaged in horticulture, the program's survey showed and average age of 25, with an equal ratio of men and women. When it comes to income diversification, roughly half (46%) had 2-3 income-earning activities, and another 28% had 4-6 activities (for comparison, more than half of all respondents reported fewer than 2 incoming earning activities). In Rwanda, savings rates increased over 300%, significantly higher than rate increase of those not engaged in horticulture (at a 155% increase). Horticulture engagement also correlated with being more likely to have taken a loan (36%) vs. those never engaged in horticulture (29%).

Toungara's presentation also included profiles of two successful horticulture-focused participants, along with the program's framework for success.

Mamadou Thiam: Horticulture Training and Services Center in Guinea

The AVENIR program is implemented by Feed the Future Guinea Agricultural Services and functions like an apprenticeship for aspiring agricultural entrepreneurs who often possess both practical and academic agricultural experience. The Horticulture Innovation Lab's Horticulture Training and Services Center has hosted three rounds of AVENIRs who have acquired postharvest skills while honing their business development and agricultural skills. Four of these AVENIRS have gone on to establish functioning business, four are in the process of developing their plans through a capstone training, and four are currently engaged with the center.

AVENIRs have hosted youth-led open houses at the Horticulture Training and Services Center. At the open houses, smallholder farmers, entrepreneurs, government officials, and extension agents have networked and witnessed demonstrations of the CoolBot, charcoal cool room, drip irrigation, trellises and mulching. 

In addition to the AVENIRs, the Horticulture Training and Services Center has hosted U.S.-based interns with agricultural expertise who collaborated closely with the AVENIRs. The interns spent months at the center and hosted trainings in food processing, production, plant disease management and extension services.

The Horticulture Training and Services Center has also promoted information on postharvest management — focused on the dry chain, an introduction to the cold chain, and market analysis. It also collaborates with local input supply services like Comptoire Agricole and is currently in the process of establishing partnerships with U.S. technology distributors, including Store It Cold, LLC, for CoolBots and Chapin Living Waters for drip irrigation systems.

Lisa Lauxman: Empowering youth through horticulture, an international positive youth development perspective

Embracing youth as partners means offering developmentally appropriate activities, authentic participation and providing youth with responsibility and decision making.

Meeting youth's needs through horticulture based learning experiences can result in greater interest in horticulture, increased sense of ownership and responsibility, build transferable skills, reduce time and costs and develops a sense of confidence and pride. 

Lauxman outlined domestic and international examples of USDA programs that engage in youth engagement and stated that in youth programming, access and equity, access to resources, education and project sustainability are perennial challenges and opportunities.