Food, Agriculture & Decent Work
ILO & FAO working together
Junior Farmer Field and Life Schools

Youth Employment

There are over 1.2 billion young persons in the world today. It is estimated that youth make up 18 percent of the global population and 25 percent of the total working age population. About 90 per cent of young people are born in developing countries, where around half of the total population lives in rural areas. The highest average annual population growth over the last ten years was registered in Sub-Saharan Africa (2.5 per cent), the Middle East (2.2 per cent), North Africa (1.7 per cent) and South Asia (1.7 per cent). The growth of youth population is projected to reach its peak in 2035.

Of the world's estimated 211 million unemployed people in 2009, nearly 40 per cent – or about 81 million – were between 15 to 24 years old, (ILO Global Employment Trends, January 2010). The youth unemployment rate rose drastically during the recent global economic crisis – more sharply than ever before – from 11.9 to 13.0 per cent. Unemployment is more widespread among young people living in urban areas. Unemployment is a less-affordable option for people living in rural areas, where most young workers have to accept any job in order to survive. In addition, an estimated 400 million youth worldwide – or about one third of all youth aged 15 to 24 – suffer from a deficit of decent work opportunities (Decent employment for youth is targeted in the Millennium Development Goals, Goal 1, target 1.B). The vast majority of jobs available to youth are low paid, insecure, and with few benefits or prospects for advancement.

Some 152 million young people, even if they have a job, live in households that earn less than the equivalent of USD1.25 per day (ILO Global Employment Trends for Youth, August 2010). Furthermore, in some countries there is an increase in worker discouragement among youth per capita that has led some young people to give up the job search.

In Sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia, up to 70 per cent of youth live in rural areas and half of the young labour force works in agriculture (IFAD, 2007). Although employment in agriculture declined during the decade 1998 – 2008, it still remains the main source of employment for more than half of people working in East Asia, South-East Asia and the Pacific, South Asia and Sub-Saharan Africa.

Lack of investments, to improve decent work prospects for young people in rural areas, often results in lower living standards and de-population of rural areas. The scarce availability of decent work and decent living opportunities and the little hope of a better future are the main factors pushing youth to migrate from rural to urban areas or abroad. Often, youth migration to urban areas leads to unemployment, poverty and alienation and, in some cases, to anti-social behaviours or exploitation.

The availability of, and access to, social services is lower in rural than in urban areas. Youth living in rural areas are more exposed to health risks, including malnutrition, malaria and HIV/AIDS. Many of them operate in agriculture, one of the three most dangerous economic sectors. Yet, youth who live in rural areas are hardly aware of the occupational health and safety and related dangers they incur and are hardly covered by healthcare and social security. Education and training is not always accessible in rural areas, especially to girls. It is often of poor quality and has little relevance to the requirements of the labour market and the needs of rural young men and women. In many countries, one in every four youth - and especially young women - is unable to read and write (for the period 2005-07, the average rate of youth literacy for Sub-Saharan Africa was 72 per cent, while that of young women was 67 per cent. See: UNESCO Statistical Institute). Many children  leave school early to take up work in farms and plantations:70 per cent of working children are in agriculture - over 132 million girls and boys aged 5-14 years old. The provision of training for employment is also biased toward urban employment. In rural communities, training opportunities to improve skills, productivity and livelihoods in agriculture are very few or they focus on programmes that do not prepare children and youth for productive work in agriculture. Technology transfer and advisory services through group-based learning programmes, such as those of the extension service, are usually not targeted at young people, especially young women.

Employment and livelihood programmes – including access to credit and other assets – have increasingly focused on off-farm activities as a way to diversify the portfolio of economic opportunities in rural areas.  Agricultural transformation through the promotion of non-farm sectoral approaches can help youth in rural areas move from under-employment and low-income jobs in the informal economy to employment in the formal economy.

Agriculture, however, will continue to play a central role in providing jobs and earnings to young and adult workers, especially those living in low-income countries. Integrated approaches that promote interventions to increase productivity in agriculture – for instance via investments in land cultivation, economic and social infrastructure, agricultural value chains, human resources development and technology transfer – combined with gender-sensitive employment opportunities in non-farm activities, improved occupational safety and health, social security and working conditions in general, and the active involvement and support of employers’ and workers’ organizations, could render rural activities more attractive to young women and men. In parallel, these interventions can enhance security, reduce dependence and vulnerabilities, stimulate growth and promote decent work for both men and women in rural areas (ILO, Food prices, employment and decent work, 2009).

Strategic partnerships

"The UN General Assembly Resolution A/RES/57/165 (December 2002) on Promoting Youth Employment “encourages Member States to prepare national reviews and action plans on youth employment and to involve youth organizations and young people in this process”.

An important aspect of the advocacy work on youth employment revolves around the establishment of strategic partnerships on youth employment. These include collaboration with multilateral and other international institutions to ensure policy coherence across national initiatives affecting youth employment, as well as promotion of cross-country and global peer networks to achieve better performance and share good-practice experience among ILO constituents and other stakeholders. In this respect, the role of FAO and ILO is to expand existing partnerships on youth employment, particularly with concerned UN Agencies and within the framework of the UN reform, within the Youth Employment Network as well as with the private sector. 

The Youth Employment Network (YEN) is a strategic alliance on youth employment that was established by the UN Secretary-General in 2001 through a partnership of the International Labour Organisation (ILO), the United Nations (UN) and the World Bank (WB) (Core Partners). The YEN has provided an important vehicle to build consensus and influence the international development agenda in support of the employment and social inclusion of young people. The work of the YEN has been strengthened by a series of UN General Assembly Resolutions which encourage member states to develop a comprehensive approach to youth employment.



FAO Focal Point: Peter Wobst, ESWD (

ILO Focal Point:Gianni Rosas, ED/EMP (