Peru: How to support future-proof rural youth?

Peru: How to support future-proof rural youth?

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Lith Montes
Lith Montes
Coordinadora del Programa Cacao y Café Sostenibles | Perú

Ensuring the future of our food depends in large part on making agriculture profitable. In Peru, the key lies in the hands of rural young people active in the agri-food chains. That´s why, in Rikolto over the last three years (from 2018 to 2020), we have invited 182 young entrepreneurs to participate in a cycle of annual forums under one slogan: be part of the solution.

For the professionals who accompany the process, we found in the forum much more than a series of workshops: we found a laboratory of ideas that could be used by the new generations and that, in a way, added Rikolto's years of work with farmer organisations and agribusiness, now open to working with young people.

The forum was born as an initiative of Rikolto, NCBA Clusa, Trias, Producers Direct and Progreso; but came to involve more than 30 leaders of the agricultural sector and 23 coffee and cocoa organisations.

Several of these organisations, leaders in their territories and in the agri-food industry, today employ or collaborate with the young participants of the forum in the development of entrepreneurship, support the inclusion of young people in the chain, and ensure new sources of income through innovative lines of agricultural business.

This year, scheduled for 4-6 November, the Youth Forum will hold its 4th conference (2nd virtual) and will address topics such as business plans and sources of financing, productive diversification models and digital marketing. What have been the keys to the success of the experience?

Nurturing the entrepreneurial mindset

At Rikolto, we believe that improving living standards in rural areas goes hand in hand with strengthening the processes of inclusion of young people along the agri-food value chain. And we recognise where these young professionals are putting their efforts and what drives them.

During the forums we met Jhair, who through family circumstances and then COVID-19 was challenged to professionalise the production of the family farm while being a university student and participating in the Youth Committee of his cooperative. During this time, the Forum was a space of inspiration for him.

From the cooperative we young people want to show older people that the key to improving coffee quality and yield is in the renewal of plantations and diversity. We come to the base, bring samples and test them among the members. They want to know how to manage the farms for better quality, they want to be taught about the practices. We have formed teams so that our products no longer go in micro batches, but in larger quantities. They are looking to learn from what we young people do.

Jhair García

When he started participating in the Forum, Jhair had many questions about how to increase profits and make better use of what was on the plot. It was then that he learned about other young people's experiences and decided to start with the farm management and the renovation of their plot with high-quality and productive varieties. Along the way he also installed an area for fish farming and another for livestock.

Youth-led enterprises are expected to grow and become the engine of a new economy, so much so that they are increasingly being approached by trade unions and agricultural programmes to participate in their training and technical assistance strategies.

Now this search will be reinforced with the "Strategic Guidelines for the promotion of Rural Youth in the development of Family Farming in Peru", which aims to implement capacity building spaces, promote rural talent, and improve certification services and strengthening of skills in agriculture to include young people in labour markets associated with family farming.

Understanding the experience of young people as a "collective"

We soon discovered that the Forum allowed not only learning, but also inspiration among peers. This was one of the key factors in ensuring entrepreneurial thinking.

Ediño Ojeda, president of the La Prosperidad de Chirinos Youth Committee, learned from the experiences of other young people who grew coffee and cocoa like him. When he started in the cooperative about ten years ago, there weren't many opportunities for training.

Now he is almost thirty years old and remembers how spaces with young people, such as workshops, forums, internships and groups, were important to start a career in agriculture and to encourage him to become an entrepreneur. Today that same spirit drives him to share with his peers.

If I had had this opportunity 10 years ago, it would have been different. (...) Now we in the cooperative are developing an innovation with the skin of coffee beans. Opportunities will come for others to follow, but since I learned it, I have to teach it.

Ediño Ojeda

This growth is also recognised at the national level in the Strategic Guidelines document: "Rural youth" are said to develop in a more favourable context than previous generations, and they have more human capital thanks to their greater access to education and health, as well as social and territorial capital, given their great capacity for mobility between locations.

They also have a predisposed mindset for innovation and differentiated access to ICTs. In this context, young people today see agriculture with different eyes, as a great opportunity. They are aware of the need for long-term work and to do it as a collective, supported by a considerable network of support and knowledge.

Youth participation in development

As we indicated at the beginning, youth is essential for the sustainability of agriculture and our food systems. Opening dialogue between generations and linking the experience and wisdom of adults to the enthusiasm and new ideas of young people, will allow us to overcome obstacles.

That is why we are proud to see that the reflections generated by the Forum have encouraged the work of the Youth Committees and their support from the producer organisations, promoting strategies to increase youth membership (such as facilities and payment flexibility) and developing good practices such as the change by thirds in their Youth Committees. For many, the Youth Committees are a source of ideas and a school for identifying new leaders.

In order to create the necessary conditions for the real participation of young people in family agriculture, the process coordinated by MIDAGRI since April of this year, together with civil society organisations and organised youth, has made it possible to analyse and propose key aspects that encourage the inclusion of youth in agricultural development. Thus, the progress made in the forums has served as input for the recently approved National Rural Youth Strategy for Agrarian Development, led by the Ministry.

The best celebrations are those that recognise what has been achieved and thereby generate new commitments. In this Bicentennial, Peru is betting on youth with a management instrument that sets the guidelines for the training, participation and leadership of rural youth. We congratulate this act that guides and inspires inclusive development. In our role, we will be vigilant and ready to add to this ongoing process, because we know that there is no possibility of development if we do not count on young people.

Contributors in writing and editing: Natalia Palomino and Mariela Wismann (Rikolto).