3 Ways to Engage Youth On Small Family Farms
Christian starts his day checking his mangoes and sweet potatoes and preparing to sell his surplus yield to others in his community. He is a young farmer, only 19 years old, but already appreciates the value of agroecology. As a member of a Honduran small farmer organization, he has a support system that helps him to use agroecological production, sell locally, and innovate. And, innovate he has. Christian created a solar-drying platform to dehydrate his mangoes and sweet potatoes so they can be dried and sold or transformed into flour. He has also been giving field tours of his innovation in other communities, teaching other young farmers how to optimize their local resources, reduce waste and generate an income–even if modest–in the process.
Young farmers like Christian serve a particularly important role in the future of smallholder farms. Not only are they the next generation who will carry on the knowledge and agricultural techniques of their ancestors, but they also sit at a critical junction in their lives where they can choose to work on their family farm or pursue wage-labor in large-scale rural enterprises (i.e coffee plantations) or urban centers.
According to Groundswell’s Regional Coordinator for Latin America, Alejandra Arce Indacochea,
“Context matters. In some areas, the rural exodus of young people has left older generations with the primary responsibility of developing agroecology; whereas in other contexts, for demographic, cultural or other reasons, there is a “surplus” of young people and temporary migration still allows for their active participation and protagonism in agroecology-based projects. It is encouraging to observe the multiple roles and modes of engagement demonstrated by young people in sustainable rural development and agroecology–as farmers, field promoters, health and nutrition monitors, community leaders, microentrepreneurs, and policy advocates through youth networks.”
What becomes increasingly important is to make small family farms attractive to youth. Groundswell has found the following three methods to be effective in engaging youth in small farming operations:
Train: Access to agroecology training programs is particularly important as young farmers adopt the historical knowledge of their farm and apply best practices from neighboring farms. Youth are well positioned to travel to neighboring farms or attend local trainings. Given adequate access to education and training, youth become empowered to apply what they’ve learned back to the farm.
Promote communication and collaboration: Young people are often interested and involved in creative forms of communication, from popular theater, to community radio, producing and sharing videos, and leading campaigns to communicate the importance of people in their areas to consume healthy, locally produced food. Take the Model Agroecology school located in Southern Brazil, for example, where a group of young farmers, ages 12 to 17, formed a savings and credit cooperative. Through state funding for a school project, they received a modest, initial sum to jumpstart the school-cooperative. Today they are self-sustaining and acquire their own materials to produce and sell candles from local honeybee wax. Because they are technology-savvy, they have diffused information about their initiative and products to surrounding districts.
Spark innovation and enterprise: When youth see financial opportunities on their small farm, they are more likely to want to stay engaged. For example, in Azabache, Honduras, a group of young farmers came together to start an apiary for honey consumption and sale in their community. Their enthusiasm in working with honeybees bears fruit as they have an income that sustains their small youth-led microenterprise. Their example is motivating other young people to join them or start other initiatives, such as minimally processing local foods and selling them in the small stores or pantries that abound in their rural communities.
Young people play critical roles as innovators, communicators, and leaders for agroecological development in the digital age. As they work alongside the older generation of farmers and eventually assume the sole responsibility of bringing agroecology-based initiatives to their maturity, they tap / will tap into their youthful energy, intelligence and creativity to improve production in the field, share with other young people what works and what doesn’t work, take the initiative and risk to experiment, and use media to socialize their ideas and reach other farmers and consumers.