A WORLD OF COVID-19 AND YOUTH: NEW AVENUES AND APPROACH

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Our present and the future have been fluidly reshaped and re-designed with a shift of more than 180 degrees by the pandemic of Covid-19 that has caused significant shock to vulnerable and underserved populations. For many, the impact is widespread and huge. In this new normal, the youth out of many have been hit the hardest.

The youth today are constrained; there are new opportunities which can be capitalized to overcome the loss of jobs and incomes. Availing opportunities in the post Covid-19 landscape warrants youth deskilling and policy incentives. And it is impossible to understand the nature of youth without understanding its relationship to dependence.

As for today, 17% of the global population comprises the youth, and by 2030 it is projected that the number of youth would have grown by 7%. The Asia-Pacific region accounts for a youth population of over 700 million. The largest population of youth which approximate at around 60% is concentrated in Asia and the Pacific region.

The region shares some common characteristics including low skill levels among the youth, difficulties in accessing finance, disparities in terms of access to resources and low technological uptake. These factors hamper the abilities of youth to harness their due potential.

A part of the generational power imbalance relates to young people’s lack of ownership of physical and financial resources and their consequent dependence on adults. Young rural men and women at least in the early stages of youth are both landless and without assets, which hold their interest towards other paths. To reverse the trend and pursue rural economic development, it is important that the youth see a secure future and have the necessary skills and access to resources.

Compounding the existing obstacles, Covid-19 has caused a downtrend in employment ratios and has cut down opportunities. Limited decent work opportunities and shrinking rural economies are steadily eroding confidence, and fuelling hopelessness. During the pandemic, a narrative emerged in many developing countries that hunger and the economic downturn could create far more complex issues. It is perhaps particularly true in countries with a significant youth population.

Today, around 44pc of the global population lives in rural areas, largely depending on natural resources. The youth continue to leave agriculture in the hands of the older population. In addition, youth education has limited focus on technical skills, digital technologies and innovation. These disciplines are almost non-existent in rural areas leading to the slow pace of innovation in agriculture.

The risk takers and innovation-friendly youth seek livelihoods which are hardly nurtured in the rural areas. Further, policy gaps, poor infrastructure, limited tech trends and innovations, weak access to finance and skewed access to natural resources lead youth to migrate in search of alternative livelihoods.

Investing in youth, and especially enhancing their job market readiness and promoting rural agri-preneurship are fundamentals. Focusing on creating an overall enabling environment through improved access to finance and incentivizing policy for investment in rural areas and rural infrastructure for improved access to services and markets are also important.

Leaders of today and the future of the youth require being equipped with modern and state of the art digital technologies and skills particularly in agriculture and agri-business: a place from where they belong and from where they should invest rather than leaving in the hands of elders and moving solely towards different in-market digital platforms as everyone. It is also increasingly relevant in the post-pandemic world of the COVID-19. Unfortunately, only 20% of the individuals characterized out of the youth appear to have access to the internet in the least-developed countries mostly third world countries as Mongolia, Bangladesh, Pakistan, Afghanistan and others.

The post-pandemic scenario of the corona virus necessitates the urgent action for up skilling and up grading the youth to prepare them better for benefiting from the new sets of opportunities such as e-commerce, value addition, storage and cold chains etc. Enabling the youth will improve resilient local economies that create jobs and food security at the local level under the new normal and reduce the vulnerabilities of the existing supply chains. A revamped approach and duly designed approach is the need of the hour and under privileged countries should take this opportunity of COVID-19 as a blessing in disguise.

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