Giving youth a policy voice

This article was written by a social reporter. It has not been edited by the Forum organisers or partners, and represents the opinion of the individual author only.


Sithembile Mwamakamba will be moderating Youth: The future of Sustainable Landscapes to be held at the Global Landscapes Forum at 9am CET November 16, 2013. More details at  

If you can’t make it to Warsaw, watch the event online at

Last year the United Nations Conference on Sustainable also known as Rio+20 concluded with a big package of commitments for action by world leaders and outcome document entitled “The Future We Want”. But in 40 -60 years’ time, the leaders that signed on to the Rio+20 commitments will not be around to reflect on achievements and failures, a new set of leaders, the youth of today will be setting new priorities.

In a few weeks’ time, world leaders will be meeting in Warsaw for the next round of UN climate talks which will sets the clock ticking on what could be a frantic 24 months as countries attempt to develop a global climate change deal. On the side-lines of these climate talks, the forestry and agriculture communities are coming together in an effort to shaping the climate and 
development agenda for forests and agriculture through the Global Landscapes Forum. For the first time youth are being given an opportunity to inform and engage world leaders, policymakers, scientists, and climate negotiators on the future they want to see.

As a young person living in Africa, a time when the scale and gravity of the negative impacts of climate change undermine the ability of all countries, in particular, African countries, to achieve sustainable development and threaten the viability and survival of nations one has to wonder, what future do we want as the youth of today, the leaders of tomorrow?

Young people often hear how agriculture is the backbone of sub-Saharan Africa’s rural economies. But what we don’t hear is a clear strategy on how the vast majority of the human assets and capital needed is being mobilised and capacitated to drive Africa’s development. While the role of agriculture in job and wealth creation for young people has been recognised, the nexus between the African youth and agriculture has only partially or insufficiently been developed and translated into public policies at the national, regional or continental level.

For Africa to achieve food security, the youth must be regarded as critical agricultural players who need and deserve special attention, support and follow-up. With their energy, passion and talents, they can help to solve many of the serious problems that Africa faces today. But first the youth must be given the tools that they need to drive Africa’s green revolution while also safeguarding the continent’s natural resources and the environment. The youth need to be part of decisions and policy-making processes for agriculture in Africa because they are the generation that will have to ensure that the continent’s growing population is fed.

There is need to meaningfully institutionalize youth involvement in agricultural policy making, giving full consideration to the varying needs of young men and women and the different demands they face.  The Youth should be given a chance to take an active part in decision-making at local, national and global levels. If young people’s voices are not heard and the impact of agriculture policy on their lives is not discussed in decision-making forums, even well-intentioned actions on the part of “the grown-ups” will fail to achieve the intended impact.

In an effort to redress the imbalance, the Food, Agriculture and Natural Resources Policy Analysis Network (FANRPAN) is playing a leading role in supporting youth engagement in agricultural policy processes. As part of its strategy to involve young people in decision-making and provide them with a platform to voice their concerns, FANRPAN is implementing a youth project that is advocating for the active engagement of youth in agriculture policy processes, demonstrates and shares lessons on how to translate youth engagement to impact, and explores how partnerships between youth (and/or their organisations) and research and development organisations deliver innovation and impact.

Since 2011, FANRPAN has been conducting country case studies on youth policies and initiatives, with a special focus on agriculture. FANRPAN believes that a lack of evidence based policies – partly caused by a failure to consult youth itself — produces responses that are frequently at odds with young people’s own aspirations, strategies and activities. By talking to those directly concerned, it has identified an urgent need for policies that encourage access to land, credit, finance and investment for young people, so that they can engage in agriculture, in both rural and urban areas. More agricultural investment should target youth programmes and ensure that initiatives are designed to meet the needs of different categories of young people. Overall, much more needs to be done to harness the potential of young people and equip them with skills and knowledge so they can fully engage in the development of the agriculture sector.

Involving young people in examining existing policies, and evaluating potential policy alternatives, is one crucial step on the path to more effective approaches. Young people also need training and opportunities to build skills so they can play an active role in decision-making processes. They must be allowed to develop their own interests on specific topics and offered guidance in how best to communicate their challenges, ideas, and experiences.

Above all, young people must be given a voice so that they can be involved in charting a future that is theirs. As Africa continues to tackle the challenges of food and nutrition security, it cannot afford to ignore the importance of young people in the development of the agricultural sector.

This is not the time for youth to bemoan how they have been excluded from policy spaces, this is an opportunity for young people of the world to articulate urgent actions needed to achieve sustainable development bearing in mind that sustainable development must be inclusive and people centered, benefiting and involving all people, including the youth. Active participation of young people in decision-making processes now, will have a deep impact on present and future generations. The contribution of youth to the discussions at the upcoming GLF will go a long way in the development of a landscapes approach, which will sustain future generations.

Post by Sithembile Mwamakamba

Sithembile Mwamakamba will be moderating Youth: The future of Sustainable Landscapes to be held at the Global Landscapes Forum at 9am CET November 16, 2013. More details at  

If you can’t make it to Warsaw, watch the event online at