Home / Rural youth empowerment to mitigate international migration?

Rural youth empowerment to mitigate international migration?

Understanding the relations between jobs and skilled youth in agriculture and migration
September 20, 2018 By: F&BKP Office, AgriProFocus Image: F&BKP Office (by: Babs Ates)

What is the relation between youth employment and education in agriculture and migration? And how should organizations working to improve food security via employment and education programs relate to the political agenda of mitigating (international) migration? These were questions discussed in another Community of Practice Youth in food systems Meet-up on September 11, 2018. Edukans and SNV presented insights from their experiences, followed by a lively debate with organizations active in this field – aiming at creating a better understanding of the eclectic relation between job creation, better skilled and qualified youth and the root causes of migration.

In The Netherlands, migration from LMICs to the EU is high on the policy agenda. International migration is indeed rising, in 2017 the number of international migrants worldwide has reached 258 million, compared to 248 million in 2015, and 220 million in 2010. Of the 258 million international migrants worldwide, 106 million were born in Asia, 61 million in Europe, followed by Latin America and the Caribbean (38 million) and Africa (36 million). By the end of 2016, the total number of refugees and asylum seekers in the world was estimated at 25.9 million (accounting for 10.1% of all international migrants). Still, international migration occurs primarily between countries that are located within the same world region (around 60% reside in a country located in their region of birth). And even larger share of migrants, about 763 million, move within their own countries to cities or to other rural locations (internal migrants).1 2 For example, over 80 percent of African migration occurs within the continent.3

Drivers of youth migration

Many factors can play a role in the decision to migrate. A growing number of people are forced to leave their homes (e.g. because of natural disaster, climate change or conflict). An even larger number of people migrate because they perceive there are no other alternatives to pursue a better quality of life (e.g. because of food insecurity, rural poverty, no access to land, lack of education or employment options)4. The majority of migrants are of working age. Around one third of all international migrants are youth aged 15 to 34.1 This migration of young people takes place in the context of high youth unemployment rates and the lack of decent work opportunities in countries of origin. Lack of meaningful work among young people can contribute to frustration leading to social unrest or irregular migration. Especially rural youth seem more likely to migrate in response to lack of decent employment and entrepreneurial opportunities in agriculture and related rural economic activities. Though, rural youth more often undertake temporary migration, especially seasonal migration, and more often to urban areas in the region.4,5 The median age of all international migrants worldwide had slightly increased from 38 in 2000 to 39 years in 2017. Considering that most migrants move within their region of birth, it is not surprising however that the median age was lowest in low-income countries (29,8 years)1. It is believed that Sustainable agricultural transformation, and in particular the creation of meaningful jobs, could offer opportunities for addressing several of the drivers of youth migration.

The migration paradox: economic development increases aspirations and capacities

Donors have growing attention for youth employment and entrepreneurship in agriculture. It is increasingly recognized that policies that help young people fulfil their potential can help drive economic development. It is popularly believed that this growth could prevent, in particular, young people to migrate domestically and internationally. The migration paradox however, as e.g. Ton Dietz described in this article (in Dutch or illustrated here), illustrates that development in poorer countries first leads to a strong increase in domestic, international and intercontinental migration. Only when countries reach higher development levels, emigration levels tend to decline, but they still remain higher than in the poorest countries. Intercontinental migration is indeed only reserved for people with sufficient money, knowledge, social contacts and / or diplomas that allow them to obtain a visa and to bear the costs and risks of traveling and settling in distant countries. The complexity of interrelated factors driving migration makes it very difficult to exactly predict (from domestic to intercontinental) migration dynamics in the future. The complexity of migration processes is probably best described, as argued by Prof. de Haas, by aspirations (wish to change personal situation, economically, culturally or socially) and capabilities (means in terms of money for example to migrate). Both aspiration and capacity will rise with development. Still, with rising aspirations, capacities and economic development, current (irregular) migration flows could stray away from distress migration (forced choice).

So what about the links between skills, job and international migration?

Increasingly, donors place the assumed relation between youth employment, education and mitigating intercontinental migration central in funding of agricultural programs. The question remains if such a direct link be claimed or to what extent it can be attributed to programs working on youth empowerment in agriculture. Data and evidence specifically related to migration of rural youth and its determinants is scarce. Literature is mainly concentrated on international migration and formal employment in urban areas. And even though some studies give insight into the relation between formal higher education and migration, the relation between other forms of skill building and its effects on migration is limited. Furthermore, data is also lacking on the impact of rural youth migration on food security and on rural livelihoods in areas of origin. Having all these complexities and questions in mind, this CoP Meet-up, Edukans and SNV shared insights from their work in the field of rural education and employment generation in order to try to contribute to a better understanding of the eclectic relation between this job creation and better skilled and qualified youth and the root causes of migration.

Rural youth vocational training program and migration decisions

Edukans is working in low income countries on access to education as well as improved quality of education. Fostering employment for young people through vocational training is one of the key pillars of Edukans’ work. Edukans felt that evidence is lacking when it comes to the relation between migration and vocational training in rural areas specifically. Therefore, they invited three Dutch students to explore these topics further in different contexts. Through interviews and focus group discussions, youth, parents, teachers and communities shared their perspectives on decisions to migrate and the relation to vocational training.  The three different case studies were presented during this CoP Meet-up with insights from Uganda (focused on rural-urban migration), Ghana (focused on both international and rural-urban migration) and Ethiopia (focused on international migration).

Because of the differences in case study design and context, it is difficult to generalize the (preliminary) findings. What the studies demonstrate, is that vocational training seems to have various effects on migration decisions of rural youth. In general, once the youth were enrolled in vocational training programs they felt this could expand their opportunities locally. In some contexts however, youth would gain skills through the programs, but were unable to apply them due to a lack of job opportunities or facilities, which in some cases led to migration to apply the learned skills elsewhere. On the other hand, migration could also be triggered in order to find more suitable education opportunities. For some young people, the ambition to migrate when receiving their vocational diploma would grow, since it was expected it would increase their chances of finding a better job abroad. Though others highlighted that they did not believe that their diploma would not have much added value when migrating to a different context, but they still expected to find a better quality job abroad with a diploma.

The preliminary results of these three case studies confirm that migration of the rural youth can be triggered by (a lack of) education and/or employment opportunities. Vocational training alone was not enough to stop migration when there are no job opportunities or better job opportunities elsewhere. But the cases show that migration is just one of the strategies of rural youth to provide in their livelihood expectations. The results also confirm that the youth’s own aspirations could grow when receiving a diploma. Other factors influencing migration, apart from vocational training and employment, are social relations and capacities. Especially in Ghana, international migration was not always seen as an option because youth did not want to leave their family behind. While on the other hand, youth in Ethiopia was often pressured by family to pursue a different life elsewhere. Capacities also played a role, the studies show: in Ghana youngsters often did not see international migration as an option because of a lack of money. The results of the case studies still need to be analyzed further and interpreted by Edukans, but an important takeaway for Edukans is to look more carefully into the relation between vocational education and available jobs, since it was stressed that this can have a lot of impact.

Please find the presentation of Edukans here.

Rural youth employment program and migration decisions

This relation between skills and jobs is something central to the Opportunities for Youth Employment (OYE) program of SNV. OYE is a market based approach to sustainably reduce youth un- and under employment. The program addresses skills training in a way that fuels young people’s own aspirations as well as the needs of local agriculture, renewable energy and water & sanitation businesses. From the idea that providing education and training is not sufficient to reach meaningful employment, SNV acts as a matchmaker between young people and private companies, focusing on skill building, workforce development as well as ecosystem development. Push (relevant skills) and pull (job opportunities) triggers are considered in order to shape the “match” program. However, there is no one size fits all approach and programs have to be tailored to specific contexts. Still, the push-match-pull model has proven its effectiveness and it is now being copied to several SNV youth employment projects, such as Value Chain Development and Youth Employment (OYEM)Livelihoods Improvement for Women and Youth (LIWAY) and Tanzania Youth Economic Empowerment Activity (YEE).

SNV is also struggling with the donor focus on the link between employment and international migration, as they argue that this relation is not one-sided but that migration decisions are influenced by many factors. Moreover, it is felt that challenges of unemployment on itself should be sufficient reason to implement youth employment programs. As Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) 8 promotes sustained, inclusive and sustainable economic growth, full and productive employment and decent work for all, with target 8.6 specifically aiming to reduce the proportion of youth not in employment, education or training by 2020. Meanwhile, SNV also recognizes the potential (and vulnerability) of young migrants and includes them in their programs, such as in OYEM in Mali. Also, many of the rural young people migrating to urban areas within their country are still unable to find decent employment, SNV has therefore started the LIWAY program, the first youth employment project in the urban context to utilise the OYE method. SNV also recognizes the growing aspirations and capacities, as the youth’s dreams to continue to grow once enrolled in their program, OYE can thus be considered as a stepping stone.

Please find the presentation of SNV here.

Moving forward: maximizing the positive and minimizing the negative effects of migration for agricultural development

The insights from both Edukans and SNV confirm that even though linkages can be found, for organizations working on specific education or employment programs in agriculture it is difficult to pinpoint to a direct effect migration decisions, as there are so many influencing factors. This relation seems even more indistinct for intercontinental migration. Other participants in this field have similar experiences and highlighted even more difficulties. A PUM Netherlands senior expert stressed that in practice it is often very challenging to link skilled youth to agribusiness incubators. From ProPortion it was mentioned that training in agripreneurial skills could provide new opportunities that are otherwise not there, that in turn could stimulate job creation. While youth entrepreneurship can provide more immediate opportunities, some suggest a mindset change is needed towards a culture rewarding competition and innovation. It also relates to young people aspirations for the types of jobs the youth are looking for (self-employed or employee). An Oxfam Novib participant explained that they also focus on both the supply and demand side of the labor market in their LEAD (Local Employment for Africa Development) program, but that it is difficult to have a large outreach. These processes take time and policy processes play an essential role.

Youth education and employment programs might thus even contribute to more migration in the near future, but could contribute in the longer term to reducing distress migration (forced choice) of rural youth towards more safe and regular forms of migration. Vocational training and education can connect youth to local opportunities, but just trainings are not enough and there is a need for integrated approaches in which job/ business opportunities and other factors such as social relations and climate change are also considered. Additionally, low unemployment rates are not necessarily a sign of better youth labor market outcomes, as they might mask rates of underemployment, informal work and vulnerable employment. In order to really reduce distress migration, there is a need to focus on creating decent jobs, for which a political enabling environment, policy interventions and regulations are crucial.5 Combining youth specific programs with youth mainstreaming efforts through multi-stakeholder collaborations could increase the successes of these efforts.

Moreover, migration can also be viewed in terms of its positive effects. At destination migrants can provide added value by bringing extra labor force, different set of skills and knowledge. At the same time, in countries of origin migration can in some cases reduce pressure over natural resources and stimulate a more efficient allocation of labor. These effects, and the role of remittances, should also be considered in order to also harness the potential of migrants for (rural) development. Perhaps the framing of donor funding should even shift towards how organizations can contribute to maximizing the positive impacts of migration and minimizing the negative ones. Furthermore, existing knowledge gaps on the relationship between agricultural policy, education, employment and migration needs to be studied further. Meanwhile, youth empowerment should stay on the agenda according to the participants of the CoP.

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Edukans is looking for partners to organize a conference on the relation between migration, employment and vocational trianing in 2019. In case you are interested to cooperate or participate please contact Brigitte Cerfontaine

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AgriProFocus in close collaboration with the F&BKP, facilitated this fourth Community of Practice (CoP) around Youth in Agribusiness and food systems, entitled “Youth, Employment and Migration – Understanding the relations between jobs, skilled youth and migration”. The aim of these CoP Meet-ups is to exchange knowledge, share experiences and jointly contribute to innovative solutions for young people to become successful in agrofood sectors and to have their voices heard among decision makers. By bringing organisations working in this field together, synergy between programs is promoted and the knowledge agenda is further developed. In case you are working on these issues and interested in joining the next CoP Meet-up, or if you have an issue you would like to address, please let us know on: or

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Are you interested in learning more on this topic? Please visit the Youth in agrofood systems theme page or the Knowledge Portal or contribute your knowledge here.



One Contribution to “Rural youth empowerment to mitigate international migration?”

  1. Yusuf Yahaya
    President /Ywai Aqua Life Integrated systems
    Enhancing poverty eradication through agricultural food production

    The best way to assist youth is through agriculture, migration can be minimised via social empowerment. Agricultural food production and processing can generate 1000 of jobs to youths directly or indirectly .


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