Webinar: How to integrate youth in horticulture value chains


This Horticulture Innovation Lab webinar discusses the importance of horticulture in a global context and opportunities enabling youth to find meaningful employment and careers. This was the fifth webinar in the Horticulture for Development Professional Series, held live on August 22, 2019.

Panelists included: 

  • Erin McGuire, Associate Director of the Horticulture Innovation Lab
  • Hillary Proctor, Director of Technical Services of Making Cents International
  • John Bowman, Senior Agriculture Advisor of the USAID Bureau for Food Security

Presenters provided context on the importance of horticulture for improving nutrition and incomes worldwide and outlined how the needs of horticultural crops and youth intersect in profitable employment opportunities. Other aspects related to youth development that were shared include a broad overview of USAID initiatives and priorities with positive youth development, attributes important to youth development, and resources to learn more about youth development. 

This summary includes the recorded webinar video presentation and the presenter's slides.

McGuire: Horticulture for nutrition and employment

Erin McGuire, of the Horticulture Innovation Lab, introduced the importance of horticulture for global nutrition as well as providing high-value income and employment opportunities. These are two key facets that make horticulture such an important topic for agricultural development and supporting youth populations.

Intersections between nutrition and horticulture

McGuire discussed the importance of nutrition on a global scale by presenting several trends connecting horticulture and nutrition. The first is the correlation between the number of food groups eaten and the probability of an adequate diet. As people eat more fruits and vegetables, there is a higher probability that they will meet dietary requirements. This is evidence in several countries such as Burkina Faso, Mali, Mozambique, Bangladesh, and the Philippines that have shown a positive correlation. 

Even though there is a strong correlation between increased consumption of diverse food groups and adequate dietary intake, many countries are far below adequate recommended intake levels of fruits and vegetables. The FAO recommends 146 kg of fruits and vegetables per capita per year. Of the 19 countries McGuire showed, only five meet that threshold. This presents both a current global issue and opportunity for fruits and vegetables. 

Benefits of horticulture for youth

Many horticultural crops are high-value crops, which can increase the earning potential for youth and smallholder farmers. Not only are they of high value, but their growth cycles are often shorter than staple crops. This allows youth to make quick cash, which is a motivating factor in employment opportunities and their decision making.

In addition, horticulture crops can be grown on smaller plots of land, allowing youth easier access to get involved and manage production.

Biggest challenges are the greatest opportunities

While horticultural crops have many benefits, they also come with their challenges. Horticultural crops are highly perishable. These crops also require appropriate technologies for pre- and postharvest activities, access to markets, and good agricultural inputs.

Although these can pose challenges, they also provide great opportunities for improving and upgrading horticulture value chains. Each of these challenges provide viable opportunities for business development and economic growth. Scaling new technologies, improving access to high-quality agricultural inputs, and improving pre- and postharvest practices can strengthen local economies and present entrepreneurial endeavors that youth can engage in. 

Proctor: How to match youth and horticulture

Hillary Proctor, of Making Cents International, provided a deeper dive into the needs of horticulture and youth. At this intersection, she shared some key opportunities for youth and the associated characteristics of horticulture that make them a good match.

Through this matching, practitioners and development professionals can identify appropriate areas for youth to develop skills and find meaningful employment in horticulture.

Needs of horticulture

Horticultural crops have very specific needs for production. These include:

  • Low amounts of land
  • Intensive farming over a short period of time
  • Many postharvest processes
  • Supplemental food security

Many staple crops need extensive amounts of land in order to produce sufficient yields for consumption. On the contrary, horticultural crops can be produced using small plots of land making them easier to access and manage.

Staple crops are also tied to household food security and household livelihoods. Horticulture serves as a supplemental source of food security and livelihoods without being directly linked.

The fast growth cycle of horticultural crops allows for quick production. While horticulture production may require intensive farming, farmers can reap the benefits in less time making it attractive. Horticulture also has unique needs due to the numerous postharvest processes that are required in order to ensure products make it to market without perishing.

Understanding youth and their needs

Proctor addressed the concept of youth as a temporary identity. During this stage, youth have limited access to resources and limited control. In this phase of life, youth are in a process of transitioning from a position of limited access and control to one with increasing responsibilities. They start out as household contributors and move towards becoming providers. The transition between these roles can create complexities for youth to engage in horticulture.

Due to this transition process, youth experience a need for quick returns on their time and investment. This is tied to their developmental process requiring quick feedback and responses that help develop decision making and other skills as well as provide a sense of gratification. Quick returns aid this transitional process, allowing youth to benefit along the way and move them along the spectrum from being a contributor to a provider, building assets and access to resources.

Matching horticulture with youth

The unique traits of both horticulture and youth present many matches that enable youth to meet their needs while supporting the requirements for horticultural development and production. These matches include:

  • Crop cycles: Horticulture requires shorter and more intensive crop cycles, which can be matched to the rapid feedback and financial returns for youth.
  • Household control: Horticultural production is not linked to household food security, which reduces the burden on youth and presents them with access to decisionmaking and increased control.
  • Land needs: Horticulture requires less land than other crops and links well to the fact that most youth lack access and ownership of land.
  • Value addition: The complex postharvest processes and avenues for value addition create entrepreneurship opportunities.

These matches provide win-win scenarios for engaging youth in horticulture and ensure that the needs of both are being met.

Many activities along the value chain can support these needs and provide employment options for youth including agricultural inputs, production, development of low cost technologies, logistics, marketing, and value-added processing. 


"Defining Youth" in 4-year phases, with childhood 0-4 and 5-9, early adolescence 10-14, adolescence 15-19, emerging adulthood 20-24, transition into adulthood 25-29. A bracket shows that USAID includes ages 10-29 in its definition of youth.
Definitions of youth development phases, including USAID's working definition of youth of ages 10-29 years old.

Bowman: Growing 'youth bulge' in population and USAID's programming

John Bowman,of the USAID Bureau for Food Security, shared USAID's approach to youth development and opportunities for programming. Bowman presented several initiatives that focus on youth as well as provided some context for the importance of youth with high populations throughout developing countries, characterizing the youth "bulge," or growing segment of the population between 10-29 years of age.  

Over half of the current world population is youth under 30 years old, highlighting the importance of focused programming and development efforts on ensuring their needs are met. Bowman shared a graphic that illustrates up to 76 percent of populations in developing countries are youth under 30, directing the need towards mainstreaming youth in development.

Integrating youth into USAID programs

Many Feed the Future programs implicitly benefit youth as some youth are also smallholder farmers or micro-business owners, but a more explicit focus is needed to ensure programs are benefiting youth and their specific needs. 

USAID has continued to focus attention on integrating youth into its programming. This is evident in a strategic imperative for investing in youth that USAID has launched across the agency. USAID understands the significant role that youth play in economic growth, democracy, and prosperity. Failing to invest in youth development can lead to high unemployment, increased violence, and instability. 

Positive Youth Development (PYD) is a framework that was created to better inform program design and ensure that programs, practices, and policies are incorporating four main domains impacting youth. These four domains for youth programming include assets, agency, contribution, and enabling environment.

PYD approaches engage youth alongside their families, communities, and governments to ensure they are empowered. They also seek to build skills, assets and competencies important for youth development. 

Important attributes of youth development

In addition to some ways in which USAID has integrated youth into programming, Bowman discussed some of the important areas programming needs to account for youth development.

One such area is combining soft skills development with technical skills. Soft skills can often be overlooked and are essential to youth as they transition to adults and take on more responsibility. Soft skills include social skills, higher-order thinking, communication, positive self-concept, and self awareness. These skills are particularly important for youth to enter and thrive in the workforce.

Healthy relationships are also necessary for youth to thrive. Bowman shared research that has looked at five areas related to relationships that are beneficial to youth. Relationships express care, challenge growth, provide support, share power, and expand possibilities. These five elements should be incorporated into programming and are essential for adults working with youth.

Bowman also expressed the importance of safe spaces that help foster soft skills and healthy relationships as well as creating a sense of belonging.

Future of USAID youth programming

USAID is taking steps to strengthen the inclusion of youth into its programs through expanding its organizational staff to include youth experts. USAID Washington has hired an Agency Youth Coordinator and the Bureau for Food Security has also hired a Senior Youth Advisor. Integrating experts into existing structures will allow the proper approaches and strategies for youth engagement and development to be represented in new programs.

Resources are increasingly being made available by USAID that promote youth integration. Examples of these resources include the YouthPower website that provides tools and frameworks as well as an expanding evidence base of what works in youth development. The USAID Youth in Development Policy is also a great resource that outlines USAID's goals and objectives for mainstreaming youth in development.