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# A systematic review of employment outcomes from youth skills training programmes in agriculture in low- and middle-income countries

### Subjects

A Publisher Correction to this article was published on 20 October 2020

## Abstract

Engagement of youth in agriculture in low- and middle-income countries may offer opportunities to curb underemployment, urban migration, disillusionment of youth and social unrest, as well as to lift individuals and communities from poverty and hunger. Lack of education or skills training has been cited as a challenge to engage youth in the sector. Here we systematically interrogate the literature for the evaluation of skills training programmes for youth in low- and middle-income countries. Sixteen studies—nine quantitative, four qualitative and three mixed methods—from the research and grey literature documented the effects of programmes on outcomes relating to youth engagement, including job creation, income, productivity and entrepreneurship in agriculture. Although we find that skills training programmes report positive effects on our chosen outcomes, like previous systematic reviews we find the topic to chronically lack evaluation. Given the interest that donors and policymakers have in youth engagement in agriculture, our systematic review uncovers a gap in the knowledge of their effectiveness.

## Main

#### Job search or employment opportunity

Three studies39,41,42 investigated the effect of skills training on this outcome. One study is a mixed-methods design39 and two41,42 are qualitative. All of these studies, not described here but outlined in Table 1, are deemed at serious risk of bias.

#### Provision of agricultural extension service

One study39 investigated on the effects of skills interventions on provision of agricultural extension service and found that the majority of graduates who benefited from student–farmer attachment and/or the Supervised Student Enterprise Project (SSEP) were engaged in extension work. This study, outlined in Table 1, is deemed at serious risk of bias.

### Intervention type and engagement in agriculture

#### Agriculture-related courses

Two studies39,47 used agriculture-related courses as interventions. One of these studies is a mixed-methods study39 and the other is qualitative47. The mixed-methods study investigated several outcomes in agriculture, namely, job creation, entrepreneurship, self-employment, provision of agricultural extension service and job search opportunity, which were found to improve with the skills training interventions. The interventions consisted of introducing innovations in agricultural training curricula (community engagement and agri-enterprise development) at Gulu University in Uganda. The community engagement took the form of a one year (or less) placement of undergraduate students to work with smallholder farmers and farmer groups within a 10 km radius of the university. The agri-enterprise development consisted of having the students design business plans; the best plans were rewarded with start-up capital. The employment rate among the graduates was 84% six months after graduation and increased to 90% after one year; less than 2% of the graduates created their own businesses. The qualitative study47 investigated two outcomes in agriculture, self-employment and income, which were found to increase after skills training on ready food mixes, maize products and mango products. The two studies are deemed to be at serious risk of bias.

#### Technical education/training

Four studies35,41,42,46 used technical education/training as interventions. Only one of these studies is quantitative35; the others are qualitative41,42,46. The quantitative study35 investigated productivity and income of the farm, and found both to increase after the intervention. The NAERLS RUYEP objectives are to provide technical advisory services to boost agricultural production and raise living standards of the youth. The results showed that the intervention allowed 84.2% of beneficiaries to achieve yields that exceed one tonne per hectare for maize in Nigeria, compared with 66% of non-participants. This study is deemed at moderate risk of bias. Among the qualitative studies, one46 looked at self-employment as an outcome and found a positive association with the intervention. The other two qualitative studies are deemed of serious risk of bias.

#### Youth programme

Youth programmes are programmes that target youth and train them in either specific skills (agricultural skills, ICT skills and so on) or broad skills (decision-making skills, business skills and so on) to enhance their employability. These have been used as interventions in three studies33,34,38. One of these studies is mixed methods38 and the two others are quantitative33,34. The mixed-methods study38 investigated the following outcomes in agriculture: job creation, engagement and income; a positive association was found between youth programme and both engagement and income. The results showed that about 86.4% of young people still pursued maize farming one year after exiting the programme and the mean income of GH¢758 obtained by beneficiaries was found to be greater than the national mean annual per capita income of GH¢734. Among the two quantitative studies33,34, one investigated the income of beneficiaries33 and the other34 looked at engagement in agriculture; both found a positive effect of the intervention on their outcome. The study that investigated the income of beneficiaries as an outcome revealed that the TREE programme increased beneficiaries’ income by US\$787 compared with non-beneficiaries over the 2011–2014 programme implementation period33. In the other study34, a youth programme including agriculture content (training in livestock production, crop production and dairy farming) in South Africa indicated that youth engagement or self-employment in agriculture is eight times higher when agricultural programmes that specifically target the youth are implemented compared with when agricultural programmes are not available. Given that all three studies are at moderate or low risk of bias, we can conclude that the findings suggest that youth programmes have the potential to influence youth engagement in agriculture.

#### On-the-job training

Only one study36 looked at on-the-job training as an intervention. The outcome investigated is self-employment, on which the intervention had a positive effect. The results showed that households that reported listening to an educational radio campaign in Ghana, Tanzania, Burkina Faso and Uganda were 8.9, 2.3, 1.7 and 1.1 times more likely, respectively, to engage in growing orange-fleshed sweet potatoes, than households that did not. The study was deemed at moderate risk of bias.

#### Vocational training

Vocational training has been used as an intervention by four studies37,40,44,45. Among these studies, three are quantitative37,44,45 and one is a mixed-methods study40. One quantitative study44 investigated income as an outcome, on which positive effects of the intervention were found in India. The findings indicated that vocational training programmes have resulted in continued adoption of beekeeping and mushroom cultivation enterprises by 20% and 51% of trained farmers, respectively, and increased their family income by 49% and 24%, respectively. The second quantitative study investigated job creation and self-employment as outcomes and found positive links with the training45. The results of the study highlighted that vocational training in agriculture in Iran resulted in employment of more than half of graduates. The third quantitative study found a positive effect of the intervention on job creation, the sole outcome it had investigated37. The study showed that vocational training for a youth employment programme in Ghana resulted in the creation of 16,383 jobs in agribusiness. All four studies are deemed at moderate risk of bias (Table 3); however, the use of descriptive methods in some of these studies preclude us from concluding that they are effective in improving employment outcomes for youth in the agricultural sector.

#### Vocational training and technical training

One study43 investigated the combination of vocational training and technical training as an intervention. The outcomes investigated are job creation and income, on which the intervention had a positive effect. The study indicated that vocational training and technical training in agriculture (poultry technician) resulted in an increase in employment of 34.2% among the 41 beneficiaries who were trained as poultry technicians in Nepal. This study is deemed at low risk of bias, suggesting that combining vocational training and technical training may be a way of improving job prospects and income for youth in the agricultural sector.

#### Vocational training and on-the-job training

One study32 investigated the combination of vocational training and on-the-job training as an intervention. The outcomes investigated are job creation and earnings, on which the intervention had a positive effect. The results showed that both interventions allowed participants to acquire sector-specific skills and firm-specific skills, leading to higher employment rates post-training for vocational-trained workers compared with firm-trained workers (21% versus 14% post-training employment rate) and their total earnings rose by more compared with the firm-trained workers (34% versus 20%). This study is deemed at low risk of bias.

### Duration of training

Ten studies out of the 16 overviewed in Table 1 presented information on the duration of training. Eight of these have programmes that last one year or less. The remaining studies indicated a training duration between two and five years. This suggests that training programmes predominantly have a relatively short-term duration, which is consistent with many interventions taking the form of technical and vocational education/training. The popularity of technical and vocational/education training as a model of intervention may be due to the relatively short-term nature of the training, or due to the nature of technical and vocational training, which is well suited for out-of-school youth, which are found in large numbers in LMIC49.

## Discussion

Issues facing youth engagement in agriculture today are relatively well documented, including educational attainment, matrimonial status, gender, household size, parental income and occupation, membership in social organization, access to ICT, land tenure system and access to state-run agricultural youth programmes50,51,52. This present systematic review, which focused solely on interventions to engage youth in agriculture, yielded a limited set of studies—nine quantitative, four qualitative and three mixed-methods studies—so generalizable conclusions are difficult to draw. The risk of bias assessment yielded three studies32,33,43 deemed at low risk of bias, nine studies34,35,36,37,38,40,44,45,46 deemed at moderate risk of bias and four studies deemed at serious of risk bias39,41,42,47.

The results of our systematic review generally are in line with those found by the systematic review of Kluve et al.53 on interventions to improve the labour market outcomes of youth. That systematic review of 107 interventions, including skills training, in 31 countries, found small positive effects for promoting entrepreneurship and skills training—especially integrated skills training programmes—but not for employment services and subsidized employment.

Our systematic review also demonstrated that in general, skills interventions seeking to motivate youth’s engagement in agriculture do not undergo a thorough evaluation for effectiveness, with hard outcomes related to employment. Our selected studies included case studies and qualitative methods, which are not adequate methods of evaluating impact and effectiveness of interventions. Only one study used an RCT32. The two studies relying on a quasi-experimental approach used DID and PSM methods33,43. Indeed, the results of the risk of bias assessment indicated the studies relying on RCT and quasi-experimental impact evaluation methods were at low risk of bias. However, these study designs are expensive to conduct. We found that of the studies that evaluate interventions, the majority did not use state-of-the-art impact evaluation methods. This has been corroborated by other studies30,31, showing a chronic lack of evaluation of interventions that aim to provide agricultural skills to youth.

Training on ICT is an important aspect for attracting and retaining youth in the agricultural sector46. ICT offers a method of delivering training to a large number of farmers, which could enhance the performance of the youth already in agriculture and attract new youth to the sector36. Radio campaigns have been shown to be effective in spurring adoption and consumption of orange-fleshed potatoes in Ghana, Tanzania, Burkina Faso and Uganda36. A study conducted in the Philippines found that ICT training helps motivate secondary school students whose parents are engaged in agriculture to work within the sector, especially when combined with offline activities such as exposure and hands-on experience as well as creative and motivational actitivites46.

It is important to note that heterogeneity in gender and education are not accounted for in the analysis of the impacts of education on youth participation in agriculture. Our systematic review revealed that most of the included studies failed to address the effectiveness of targeting the population of interest—educated and uneducated youth. Illiteracy and gender heterogeneity were not addressed in the included studies. Indeed, no studies assessed the effects of training interventions on illiterate youth. This calls for investigations to focus on this vulnerable group of society, which represent about 25% of youth in sub-Saharan Africa and 11% in Southern Asia54. Failing to account for such variation in the background of the youth participants limits the ability to assess the effectiveness of skills training interventions.

The absence of robust research and lack of effective evaluation of the available data on the effectiveness of agricultural youth employment interventions has notable consequences on potential investment. Ultimately, the commitment of policymakers is necessary to ensure the sustainability and success of interventions to boost youth’s engagement in agriculture. It is encouraging that the majority of interventions (12 studies out of 16) studied originated from public policy, compared with three originating from non-public policy programmes (NGOs, international institution) and one from mixed policies (public and non-public policies). However, to provide a compelling basis on which to convince governments and donors to fund future interventions, as well as encourage young people to partake in training, cost-effectiveness analysis and estimates of returns on investment in training programmes is necessary. Indeed, a 2018 stocktaking of the evidence on the effectiveness of youth employment interventions in Africa found that for the agricultural sector in particular, “there is very little literature and virtually no evaluation evidence to inform policymakers about what types of interventions can improve the prospects of young people in the [agricultural] sector”31. Our study supports this conclusion. Moreover, to ensure that the skills training provides long-term opportunities for youth, it is crucial to establish a periodic follow-up to assess how trainees are performing after completion of a training programme. This aspect was missing in most of the interventions reviewed in this systematic review, yet it is important to check that the youth who engage in agriculture after receiving skills training are still involved and thrive in their agriculture-related business in the long term.

In summary, there is a need to foster youth skills training programmes and more importantly to evaluate more rigourously these programmes so that knowledge on good practices may be generated and transferred from one developing country to another. Estimates of returns to investment of agricultural skills training programmes are warranted as they could provide governments and donors with the evidence and cost-based analysis to continue and increase support for such programmes. Interventions also need to account for heterogeneity in gender and educational background of the youth to foster sustainability in agricultural value chains, inform inclusive policy design and ultimately contribute to reducing poverty and food insecurity in LMIC.

## Methods

This systematic review was prepared following guidelines from Petticrew and Roberts55. The approach comprises five steps: identifying the research question; identifying relevant studies; study selection; extracting and charting the data; and collating, summarizing and reporting the results. The protocol for this study was registered on the Open Science Framework before study selection and can be accessed at https://osf.io/bhegq//. The guiding question for this systematic review was: What are the effects of skills training interventions on educated and non-educated youth employment outcomes in agricultural value chains, agribusiness or contract farming in LMIC? The inclusion and exclusion criteria to identify and then select the relevant studies are shown in Table 4.

### Risk of bias assessment

Regarding the risk of bias assessment, each study was assessed following the criteria of the eight domains of risk of bias we considered. The maximum score a study can obtain in terms of minimizing all domains of risk of bias is 23 stars, which is 100% of the stars. A study is deemed to be at low risk of bias across all domains if its total score is in the interval 75–100%. If the total score is in the interval 50–75%, the study is said to be at moderate risk of bias across all domains. A study is at serious risk of bias if its score falls within the interval 25–50%. When the total score ranges from 0 to 25%, the study is deemed to be at critical risk of bias across all domains. See Supplementary Table 4 for details on the criteria used.

### Search strategy

An exhaustive search strategy was developed and tested in CAB Abstracts to identify all available research pertaining to the effects of skills training interventions on educated and non-educated youth employment outcomes in agriculture in LMIC. Search terms were developed to address variations of the key concepts in the research question: skills training, youth, employment or engagement, and agriculture. Searches were performed on 9 May 2019 in the following electronic databases: CAB Abstracts (access via OVID); Web of Science Core Collection (access via Web of Science); EconLit (access via ProQuest); Agricola (access via OVID); and Scopus (access via Elsevier). Full search strategies for each database, including grey literature, can be accessed in their entirety at https://osf.io/xv56k/.

A comprehensive search of grey literature sources was also conducted. A list of the resources that were searched can be found at https://osf.io/xv56k/. The grey literature searches were performed using custom web-scraping scripts. The search strings were tested per website before initiating web-scraping. An existing Google Chrome extension was needed to scrape dynamically generated websites.

The results from the databases and the grey literature searches were combined and de-duplicated using a Python script. Duplicates were detected using title, abstract and same year of publication, where year of publication was a match, where title cosine similarity was greater than 85%, and where abstracts cosine similarity was greater than 80% or one of the abstracts (or both) was empty. When duplicates were found, the results from the databases and the grey literature searches were combined and duplicates were removed.

Following de-duplication, each citation was analysed using a machine-learning model. The model added more than 30 new metadata fields, such as identifying populations, geographies, interventions and outcomes of interest. This allowed for accelerated identification of potential articles for exclusion at the title/abstract screening stage.

### Study selection and eligibility criteria

Systematic review software, Covidence, was used for both title/abstract and full-text screening decision-making with two independent reviewers evaluating each item. Citations were included in this study if they met all of the inclusion criteria noted above. Studies that did not meet all the inclusion criteria were excluded. Exclusion criteria were the inverse of the inclusion criteria. Each citation that met one of the exclusion criteria at the title, abstract or full-text screening phases were excluded. Studies included in the full-text screening stage were those that met all inclusion criteria and none of the exclusion criteria, or those whose eligibility could not be established during title/abstract screening. Reasons for exclusion were documented at the full-text screening phase.

A total of 245 records were identified for full-text screening. This screening process led to the identification of 16 studies that were considered adequate regarding the content and methodological rigour. The PRISMA flow diagram (Fig. 1) shows the steps followed during the screening process and the number of items that resulted after each step.

### Data extraction

Data extraction was based on interventions and outcomes established in the research question and exclusion criteria. The data extraction focused on the outcomes of the studies, the methods used to obtain the outcomes, and the validity and reliability of those methods using a data-extraction form. To reduce risk of bias related to the extracted data, two separate researchers extracted data from each included study in the full-text review step. When disagreements occurred between researchers on data extracted from a study, a third researcher was engaged to resolve conflict by extracting data again from the study and the results were compared with those found previously. In total, 31 conflicts were solved among the 261 reviews. The critical appraisal of individual sources of evidence gave an indication of the strength of evidence provided and informed the standards followed for this systematic review.

### Reporting Summary

Further information on research design is available in the Nature Research Reporting Summary linked to this article.

## Data availability

The data that support the findings of this study are available from the corresponding author upon reasonable request.

## Code availability

The code used in this study is available upon request.

## Change history

• ### 20 October 2020

An amendment to this paper has been published and can be accessed via a link at the top of the paper.

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## Acknowledgements

We thank J.-A. Porciello and M. Eber-Rose for helpful comments on earlier drafts of this manuscript. We gratefully acknowledge funding support from Bundesministerium für Wirtschaftliche Zusammenarbeit und Entwicklung (Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development in Germany) and The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation as part of Ceres2030: Sustainable Solutions to End Hunger, a project administered by Cornell University, USA.

## Author information

Authors

### Contributions

W.H.E.M., M.P. and P.Z. developed the research question. J.A.K. and G.C. conducted the literature search. All authors drafted the PRISMA-P protocol for this study. W.H.E.M., M.P., P.Z, C.J.A, D.A.C., J.F., W.S. and S.T. conducted the full-text reviews and drafted the paper, and all authors contributed to the writing.

### Corresponding author

Correspondence to W. H. Eugenie Maïga.

## Ethics declarations

### Competing interests

The authors declare no competing interests.

Publisher’s note Springer Nature remains neutral with regard to jurisdictional claims in published maps and institutional affiliations.

## Supplementary information

### Supplementary Information

Supplementary Tables 1–4.

### Supplementary Material 1

PRISMA protocol for the systematic review.

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Maïga, W.H.E., Porgo, M., Zahonogo, P. et al. A systematic review of employment outcomes from youth skills training programmes in agriculture in low- and middle-income countries. Nat Food 1, 605–619 (2020). https://doi.org/10.1038/s43016-020-00172-x

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