Challenges and opportunities for youth entry to existing family farms

Many young people remains on the holdings of their families and simply farm a portion, essentially subdividing an already small parcel. This is the default outcome for young people for whom all other options are closed. Those born on farms and choose not to or cannot leave will simply add to the family labor force. Eventually they can expect to inherit a portion of the land, but if many siblings are in the same position, the holding will be small. These people already have land, but need some capital and skills to manage higher valued agriculture. Young people who foresee this as their future, however, may have little incentive to invest in skills, since they will not have the power to use them as long as the parental generation retains recognized rights of decision.
Families in this situation may find themselves in increasingly difficult circumstances, with alienated young people resentful of the continued control of their elders over resources.
With some guidance and mentoring, however, families could turn this situation to advantage by adopting an approach to management of the household as an enterprise. The additional skills and labor of multiple young adults in the household could be used for specialization. Those capable of earning off-farm wages could do so, thus easing the capital constraints of the household. Those with sufficient skill to manage higher valued agriculture could sharpen the specific skills required through short courses or focused training. Some superior technologies, such as conservation tillage, require high investment of labor at peak periods, and a household enterprise with several young adults should be able to undertake the required work.
Thus even if young people are absorbed into the farms of their birth as young adults, a change in management of the household enterprise could make this absorption more rewarding for the individuals and the family. A combination of pooled off-farm earnings, a shift in farming technology to higher valued and more commercial products, and aggregation of household labor at peak periods could allow small farms to absorb young adults constructively. An emphasis on extension programs that focus on the household as an enterprise, and not just on technical and economic advice on crops or livestock activities, could help in this regard.
This view of the evolution of the small household farm as young adults become economically active provides an important perspective on the conceptual understanding of youth employment. A young person in, for example, Mt. Kenya who is a member of such a household and has also benefitted from the Youth Opportunities and acquired vocational skills as a hairdresser. Might see the primary occupation as “hairdresser,” but also be an equity holder in a small farm enterprise (if her earnings were applied in part to investment on the farm) and an occasional laborer at times of peak demand. Her economic security would come from the farm earnings as well as from her trade. To create space for the contributions of young people like this, the parental generation would need a new understanding of the farm as an enterprise.

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