Photo by Lynsey Grosfield/CIFOR

Digital Summit: Including youth in sustainable development efforts to boost impact

Successful landscape management hinges on full integration of young people

BONN, Germany (Landscape News) — Women and indigenous minorities are increasingly included in sustainable development initiatives, but integrating youth into all stages of landscape and natural resource management might not just be a matter of equality, but a key to ensuring  sustainable programs deliver impact, according to panelists at a digital summit.

Speakers at the summit, which was held ahead of the Global Landscape Forum (GLF) in Bonn, Germany, on Dec. 19 and 20, represented the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO); the Young Professionals for Agricultural Development (YPARD); the International Union of Forest Research Organizations (IUFRO), the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) and the Climate Smart Agriculture Youth Network (CSAYIN).

Based on sheer numbers alone, youth, who make up 1.8 billion of the global population of 7.6 billion, must be included in sustainable development programs, agreed the panelists.

“You do not want to exclude large sectors of the population because the success of a project depends on it,” said YPARD coordinator Courtney Paisley.

Although the term “youth” is used somewhat loosely in social terms, for statistical purposes the United Nations considers youth to fall between 15 to 24 years old. Adolescents — which the U.N. defines as between 10 to 19 years old — and youth combined are considered “young people,” and fall between 10 to 24 years old.

During the online summit, Paisley also mentioned the need to pass on existing knowledge from retiring to younger professionals, and to infuse youth vision into programs to ensure their sustainability over the long term.

Almost 90 percent of young people live in less developed countries, according to the U.N. Population Fund (UNFPA). The age group makes up just over 30 percent of the population in countries classified as “least developed,” including 33 countries in sub-Saharan Africa, eight in Asia, six in Oceania and Haiti in the Caribbean. In more developed countries, the age group makes up 17 per cent of the population.

Some of the world’s youngest populations live in African countries, so “including this [demographically] dominating population is preparing for the future,” said IUCN ambassador Honorine Uwase Hirwa, who raises awareness on forest and landscape restoration in her native Rwanda, especially among youth.

The proportion of the world’s 12- to 24-year olds living in Africa is expected to rise from 18 per cent in 2012 to 28 per cent by 2040, although the overall global proportion of young people is projected to decline from 17.6 percent in 2010 to 13.5 per cent in 2050, according to UNFPA. During the same period, the number of 12- to 24 year olds in all other regions will decline, particularly in the Asia Pacific region where the age group will decline from 61 per cent in 2012 to 52 per cent by 2040.

Institutionalizing the participation of youth can also help organizations harness their creativity and “ability to ride the tech wave”, pointed out young professional Maria Paula Sarigumba from the FAO regional office for Asia and the Pacific, who supports the mainstreaming of youth in sustainable development through agriculture, forestry and fisheries.

“A third of the targets in the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) highlight the role of youth,” she noted. “Responsibility engaging youth in sustainable agriculture, forestry and fisheries would help us achieve these goals.”


A crucial mistake when addressing “the youth issue” is that it does not exist, Paisley said. Young people across the world are not a uniform block, but represent “many different types of people with different needs,” instead.

Paisley was keen on debunking myths around entrepreneurialism and youth. “Not all young people are entrepreneurs; we have to stop thinking about this as a magical thing,” she said.

Sarigumba called for integrating youth in the planning of natural resource management strategies —especially given their participation in value chains across the agricultural, forestry and fishery sectors.

Ejegua Oghene from CSAYIN endorsed Sarigumba’s perspective, noting that even young graduates in the field of agricultural sciences have a hard time making the transition from school lecture rooms to professional roles on the ground.

On occasion, organizations may also have a hard time figuring out how to best reach out to youth. Sometimes, one “struggles with communication, to get the word out,” said Daniel Boehnke, the coordinator of the IUFRO-EFI Young Scientists Initiative.

Best practices may vary across sectors and projects, but actively engaging with other organizations and individuals catalyzes joined learning, said Paisley.

“We’re going to see a lot of innovation and change at the local and national level,” she anticipated.

A way to foster this innovation is by creating and interconnecting country chapters, Paisley said, adding that youth on the ground mobilize peers at the national and local level, and that dialogue between country representatives accelerates learning.


Looking at the future of youth mainstreaming worldwide, Paisley notes that “no one organization can do it alone” because it is a complex, multifaceted matter. Engaging with various sectors —including banking— is the way to go, she said.

“There is power in numbers,” Sarigumba said. “Youth should continue organizing, mobilizing and partnering with different sectors” to have a say in natural resource management.

“What have we done so far?” queried Hirwa, who has been a public speaker at a number of meetings connected to nature, youth and rights, challenging stakeholders across the globe. “We have to take practical steps if we want to effect change.”

The greatest number of 10- to 24-year olds live in the following countries, according to UNFPA: India (356 million); China (269 million); Indonesia (67 million); the United States (65 million); Pakistan (59 million); Nigeria (57 million); Brazil (51 million) and Bangladesh (48 million), according to UNFPA.

Find out more about the speakers by clicking here

Watch the summit here:

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