“This pandemic has affected me so much, it has given me a very hard time. I had six workers around, but I had to stop them from working because I can’t pay them. Even my side income (was lost) and the retail shop where my wife worked was closed. I am in a total dilemma.”
This is how Sunday Salveri, a young agripreneur from Uganda, summarises the impact the outbreak of COVID-19 had on his fish farm business.
His testimony reflects the dire reality of many young farmers and highlights how the pandemic is disrupting agricultural value chains and markets and thus severely affecting rural livelihoods. Due to lockdowns and movement restrictions, small farmers and agribusinesses are often unable to process their fresh produce and access markets. Declining demand and lower prices are leading to heightened food waste and income loss. Seasonal and migrant workers, no longer generating income, are returning to their areas of origin, with ripple effects on their households.
Rural youth risk to disproportionately suffer from the pandemic. Already facing higher unemployment and underemployment rates compared to adults, rural youth are 40 per cent more likely to be in casual work arrangements than urban youth. Most earn their income on a daily or weekly basis, with little or no access to health insurance or social security. The severe losses and financial burdens faced by young agripreneurs can undermine their key role as employers and positive models for other rural youths. The Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) has documented these and other impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic on agri-food systems and rural livelihoods.
To support rural youth, FAO and its partners have taken action to engage with young rural people and advocate for youth-inclusive responses to COVID-19. Listening to youth voices and bringing them to the forefront, FAO is committed to understanding the challenges and needs of rural youth in their quests to access decent jobs and keep their businesses afloat. This action echoes the statement on COVID-19 and Youth, issued by the UN Inter-Agency Network on Youth Development, which called for effective and safe partnerships with young people, during and after the COVID-19 crisis.
To this end, FAO and partner organizations launched an online youth engagement initiative that assesses the specific impacts of the outbreak on their lives and agribusinesses and identifies possible solutions. The initiative Coping with COVID-19: voices of young agripreneurs collaborates with youth networks and groups of young farmer champions and agripreneurs. Partner organizations include Rwanda Youth in Agribusiness Forum, Uganda Young Farmers Champions Network, Conseil National de la Jeunesse du Sénégal, Red de Jóvenes Rurales de Guatemala, Eastern African Farmer Federation, among others. The initiative also aims to identify effective practices or innovations introduced by the youths to face the emergency, and which can help economies recover post-crisis.
To reduce access barriers while aligning with the #StayHome directives, we used a variety of communication channels to reach rural youth, based on local contexts and preferences (online surveys, WhatsApp, social media, email, dedicated digital platforms such as ChispaRural.GT).
All in all, hundreds of young people shared their experiences and stories. They consistently reported as major effects of COVID-19:
The coping strategies most commonly adopted are:
Rural youths’ lives are being disrupted as they find themselves dealing with considerable economic, physical and mental stress. Despite these challenges, several youth organizations are taking the lead in disseminating information about COVID-19 and some entrepreneurs are finding opportunities to innovate and grow.
When asked about the support needed to sustain their family and businesses, respondents prioritized:
FAO is committed to strengthen partnerships with rural youth organizations and to advocate with decision-makers for the design and implementation of youth-sensitive COVID-19 responses. These will have to include youth-focused social protection measures, psychosocial support, stimulus packages and skills development for young agripreneurs (on agri-food systems, value addition, online marketing, green jobs, etc.) to successfully relaunch, adapt, or re-invent their businesses.
While short-term responses will focus on targeted social protection and emergency interventions, in the medium to long term there is a need to create more and better employment and business opportunities for young rural people, supporting their transition to the formal economy. Through its Integrated Country Approach to boost decent jobs for youth in agri-food systems, the FAO Decent Rural Employment Team is working to strengthen the voice and agency of rural youth and their organizations, to enable their meaningful participation in agri-food value chains, financial mechanisms, service provision and policy dialogue.
By Marzia Pafumi (Food and Agriculture Organization firstname.lastname@example.org). This article is based on a series of posts published on the FAO Decent Rural Employment website, between March 30 and April 24, 2020.
This article is part of the Decent Jobs for Youth Blog Series: Youth Rights & Voices. The Blog Series highlights the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on young women and men in the world of work and discusses action-oriented policy responses and solutions. If you would like to comment or contribute, please contact email@example.com.
To bring youth voices to the forefront of action and policy responses, the Global Initiative on Decent Jobs for Youth (DJY) and its partners are conducting a survey on the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on youth rights. Participate in the survey now!
 ILO (2017): Global Employment Trends for Youth 2017: https://www.ilo.org/global/publications/books/global-employment-trends/WCMS_598669/lang--en/index.htm