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September 2017: Root Capital Roundup

Posted by Root Capital  |  Sep 27, 2017 2:21:11 PM

Welcome to the first-ever Root Capital Roundup!

Earlier this year we launched the Root Capital Roundup, a blog series summarizing the latest news around issues important to us and our supporters.

In this third edition of the Root Capital Roundup, we explore why it’s important to invest in agriculture with a youth lens.

Today’s population of youth is the largest in history. Over the next 15 years, 1.6 billion people will reach working age in low- and middle-income countries. Leaders of those countries are starting to recognize that the strength of their economies hinges on young people.

However, many of these young people are struggling. Seventy-five percent of them are un- or under-employed—in fact, 15 to 29-year-olds are three times more likely to be unemployed as those aged 30 to 64. Sadly, it’s young men and women living in poor, rural communities that feel this pain most acutely. Available jobs are often low-paying and physically demanding, and involve risks like crop price volatility and climate change that threaten their very livelihoods.

All too often, young people view agriculture as “dirty work”—and in many cases they’re right. It’s little wonder that many choose to leave their farms behind in the largest wave of urbanization in history, risking everything for a better shot in a city or a foreign country.

A flawed agricultural system is part of the problem. Thriving agricultural businesses can be part of the solution.

Here are three ways that agricultural businesses can transform the challenge of our booming youth population into a massive opportunity.

Neri Mejía and Yulisa Tabora run CAPUCAS' composting facility. Both are under 30 years old.

Migration is dangerous. Agricultural businesses give young people a reason not to leave.

When young people leave their rural communities behind, the journey is rarely easy.

In Central America, thousands migrate internally to overcrowded urban centers. Many more brave a harrowing journey to the United States. The lucky ones find something better than what they left behind; many more do not.

In West Africa, climate change has exacerbated youth migration to the point of a full-fledged crisis. European leaders recently suggested that African nations should manage this rising tide of refugees by opening up local migrant processing centers in exchange for developmental aid. We propose a different solution: investing in the communities these migrants come from, starting with agricultural businesses.

Agricultural businesses address the root of what causes migrants to leave their homes in the first place. For example, the Village Nut Company creates jobs for young people in regions of Kenya suffering from high rates of youth unemployment. In Honduras, the CAPUCAS coffee cooperative—recognizing how climate change spurs migration—is prioritizing income diversification to help farmers adapt to forces that are beyond their control.

Agricultural businesses offer young people the opportunity to live the life they desire, without needing to leave the place they grew up.

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Participants in COCAFELOL's coffee education program practicing the proper measurements for French pressed and single-serving drip coffee.

Agricultural businesses can foster young talent.

It’s a catch-22. If agricultural businesses can’t find young people to hire, they won’t be in business for long. And without viable local employment, young workers have no way to make a living in their communities. When they leave, the business suffers; when the business suffers, more youth depart in search of better opportunities.

If young people do stick around, businesses can continue to offer them jobs, creating space for them to invest in the future of their communities.Businesses like our client COCAFELOL in Honduras recognize this problem, and attack it head on. They cultivate talent from the ground up by educating members’ children about the importance of coffee to their farming community, then training them for jobs within the cooperative. Risking your life for a half chance elsewhere seems a lot less attractive when you’ve got a job as a fully trained barista, agronomist, or accountant lined up right in your hometown.

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Kenyan farmer Johnny Njoka growing sorghum, a staple grain in many parts of Africa. © Stuart Freedman/Argidius Foundation

By providing jobs for youth, agricultural businesses can feed a growing population.

By 2050, the world’s population is expected to approach 10 billion. The majority of this growth will take place in the developing world. In order to feed this population, farmers need to boost global food production by an estimated 60 percent. Yet the average age of farmers worldwide is sixty. Many farming communities are aging precisely because, without incentives to remain, young people leave in search of other opportunities.

In a global survey of millenials, the majority of African youth reported having a successful career, spending time with family, and learning new things as their highest priorities. Less than 20% prioritized wealth. These trends were nearly identical to those reported by youth in Latin America.

The world needs to feed a growing population. Young people want to live fulfilling lives. By maximizing farmer productivity and creating viable career paths for young people, agricultural businesses are the key to achieving both.


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Young participants in an advisory workshop run by Root Capital for staff of the Village Nut Company. © Stuart Freedman/Argidius Foundation

By giving agricultural businesses the tools and resources they need to invest in young people, we can ensure the prosperity of rural youth.

And when young people thrive, the benefits ripple outward. At CAPUCAS, it’s young people who lead the way in training farmers on effective organic farming techniques and experimenting with secondary crops to promote resilience to climate change. As the only woman agronomist in her entire province, this young woman in Peru is blazing a trail for other women in agriculture. And by creating economic opportunities for young people in communities affected by violent extremism, we can deprive insurgent groups of “the oxygen that they need to thrive.

With credit and training hard to come by, agricultural businesses occupy a precarious but incredibly important position. Together, we can give these businesses the tools they need to unlock the potential of the next generation.

We'd love to hear from you about what you would like to see in the Root Capital Roundup going forward. If you have a suggestion for how to improve this series or an idea for an article you’d like us to include next time, let us know by tweeting your thoughts @RootCapital or leaving a comment below! 


Topics: News and Announcements, Future of Farming