Inclusive societies and development

Agro-food economy holds key to a brighter future for young people in developing countries, says new OECD Development Centre study


Paris, 04 April 2018 - Today's world youth population -aged 10 to 24- is 1.8 billion people strong and represents the largest cohort ever transitioning to adulthood. Eighty-eight per cent of them live in developing countries. With the right policies in place, they can be influential actors of economic and social progress. Conversely, failing to improve their prospects, in particular for the most disadvantaged, could make the global youth bulge a brake for economic and social development. 

A high level policy dialogue on youth well-being held jointly by the OECD Development Centre and the European Commission today presents the key findings from three and half years of project on youth entrepreneurship, aspirations and rural livelihoods and nine country-specific reviews on youth well-being.

According to the EU-OECD Youth Inclusion project, the overwhelming majority of young people in developing economies are faced with jobs that fall short of their aspirations. Throughout the developing world, the project finds, young people value similar job characteristics and employment conditions, such as job security and formal employment, and most of them want to work for the public sector and to become professionals. However, these preferences are at odds with reality: about 80% of students currently enrolled in school in developing countries wish to be in high-skilled jobs, but only 20% of young workers presently hold such jobs. This gap is particularly pronounced in Africa and Latin America, even for tertiary educated youth.

The findings of the project question a number of commonly-applied policy responses. Youth entrepreneurship programmes, for instance, whereby governments encourage young people to create their own enterprises, are not enough: only a tiny portion (less than 5% in the four developing countries studied) of young entrepreneurs prove to be successful. The large majority remain in subsistence activities, held back by low levels of education, informality, poor physical infrastructure and limited access to finance. Policy makers should thus be cautious when promoting entrepreneurship as a scalable solution to the youth employment challenge.

Watch the video about the project

According to the project’s new study on rural youth livelihoods, however, promising but overlooked opportunities lie in booming local and regional food markets of developing countries. The agro-food economy – the local production, transformation and marketing of domestic agricultural products -- holds considerable job-creation potential for young people in rural areas. However, turning this potential into real jobs requires substantial, new investment in national and regional food systems -from regulatory mechanisms to infrastructure to improve production, processing and packaging and access to markets. Otherwise, the boom may merely drive but an increase in food imports with few new, decent jobs for youth. More vibrant, sustainable and inclusive domestic food systems articulated in local value chains may well be one of the few lasting solutions to the persistent challenge rural youth employment.

The project also assesses the track record of specialised Ministries and agencies. Numerous governments have been developing comprehensive policy frameworks to better respond to young people’s needs and aspirations: nearly 2 out of 3 countries in the world now have a national youth policy. However, the project concludes that outcomes often fall short of commitments. Greater policy coherence, adequate funding and stronger institutional capacity are needed for specialised Ministries to turn national youth strategies into an effective driver of youth well-being  across all areas of governmental action. Countries with a track record of effectively improving the lives of young people, and their contribution to the development of their communities, are actually those where overall, broad-based and inclusive policies support economic growth.


The EU-OECD Youth Inclusion project (2014-2018) carried out by the OECD Development Centre, and co-financed by the European Union, analysed policies for youth well-being in nine developing countries -Cambodia, Côte d’Ivoire, El Salvador, Jordan, Malawi, Moldova, Peru, Togo and Viet Nam- incorporating original global research on youth entrepreneurship, youth aspirations and rural youth livelihoods.

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Press contact

For more information or to obtain a copy of the study, journalists are invited to contact Bochra Kriout (; Tel: +33 (0)1 45 24 82 96) at the OECD Development Centre Press Office.


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