Rural Youth: training and participation drive

One of the central challenges for the peasant movement is ensuring that the rural youth is able to stay in rural areas and has the knowledge and conditions needed to live and farm with dignity. This was acknowledged in the VII Congress of the Coordinadora Latinoamericana de Organizaciones del Campo/CLOC-La Vía Campesina in Cuba at the end of June.

“The public youth policies of our neoliberal governments do not provide the necessary guarantees young people need in these areas. Therefore, without a good education, training and healthcare, young people are forced to move to cities to access the resources that are just not readily available in rural areas,” explained Raúl Eguigure, an organiser from Honduras who represents central America within CLOC, in an interview with ALAI. 

Margarita Gómez is from Argentina and is a youth representative for South America and member of La Vía Campesina’s International Coordinating Committee for youth from the Americas. She added that land access is also an issue, particularly for women, as well as access to work, which causes forced migration as people look for employment.

Furthermore, there are also cultural barriers that must be recognised: working on the land is not valued enough, and this is another reason behind youth migration. “I think that as peasants and farmers, we should have a qualification, because it is a profession” says Eguigure. “We create life in rural areas and that is not valued in the cities. If peasants stopped their production, there would be chaos in cities in terms of food supply.”  In the same way, people in cities should be made more aware of the value of what is produced in rural areas, which would in turn motivate young people to stay.

In fact, one of the youth articulation’s main proposals is to help those young people who have moved to cities fall back in love with rural life. “Many young people we meet in big cities, (and especially in towns), are people whose grandmothers, grandfathers and great grandparents left rural areas because of the difficulties they suffered there” explains Gómez. “Today, our job as young people is show the youth that there’s another rural life, a different reality to that of seventy years ago, which we owe to the hard work of our ancestors, and our own hard work that we have put in over the last twenty years.”

As a result, for a number of years now, there has been a push for collaboration and interaction between rural areas and cities. 

Through internships, camps and meetings, young people from the city get the chance to visit rural areas, understand how rural production works, and learn the principals of agroecology. They are also invited to study in the schools set up by rural organisations. 

Furthermore, urban agriculture is also encouraged. “In many countries, we see young people who didn’t previously know how to plant corn plants but who now do so because they learned how through work experience in rural areas” says the Honduran representative.  “As a result, they then start their own plots and allotments at home. If you have a patio or an outside space, you can grow things, and do it in an agroecological way too. This is one way to benefit whilst living in the city. Our dream is that all young people who have moved away return to rural areas, because that’s where life begins” adds Eguigure. Organisational processes are also being driven forward within cities.

At the same time, these links between rural areas and cities enable the rural youth to become familiar with the problems and struggles of the city and consider these in their actions.

Technical and political formation and training

Youth leaders have identified both political and technical training as a main priority and goal.  The main mechanisms used to achieve this are the Institutos Agroecológicos de América Latina (IALAs), promoted by the CLOC/LVC. There are six of these, in a number of different countries, in addition to other agroecological schools.  Organisations are responsible for maintaining and running the IALAs, and each country is committed to sending a quota of young people to the training events.

“We alternate within the schools. That is to say, we spend some time in the classroom and some working in the community, to avoid losing touch with the land” says Gómez. Students can do the practical work in their own communities, or in the communities local to the IALA where they are studying.  The subjects studied, although different in each school, combine political training with technical and practical teachings.  The teachers are members of the organisations or academics from partnered universities.

A decade of work

The CLOC-LVC youth articulation has been going for at least a decade.  The first Youth Assembly was held in Paraguay in 2010.  Since then, the organisation has made progress on a number of levels: on the local grassroots level, as well as regionally and nationally.  Today, CLOC representatives from each country must include at least one young person and one woman, chosen by the organisations. There is also a male and female youth delegate from each region on La Vía Campesina’s International Coordinating Committee.  In this way, through grassroots exchanges, youth proposals and suggestions have an impact on the political agendas of both the CLOC and La Vía Campesina.

“As young people, we understand the importance of working with older colleagues” says Margarita Gómez. “This empowers us to keep working on all of the political discussion topics that exist within the CLOC. We are represented in all of the spaces where decisions are made and discussions take place, and this allows us to continue to grow and to press ahead with many of the struggles that affect our land”.

The CLOC’s policy of driving forward youth organisations has also served as an incentive to increase participation in local and national organisations.  However, young people recognise that this is not always an easy process. “We must make leaders see that if we are not represented in these spaces within organisations, we are not going to learn” stresses Raúl Eguigure, adding that this then allows them to take on larger roles of responsibility within their organisation.  In this way, he hopes that his older colleagues “will continue to give us opportunities, and realise that if we are a part of this process, we can give opinions, make suggestions, and improve the organisation, because youth has always been at the forefront of this. Often, we have been put to work in other ways but now we are being given access to spaces that are really important for us, and for that we are grateful.”.

V Assembly in Cuba

Both youth representatives had positive experiences in the V Assembly in Cuba, and highlighted that, for the first time, urban delegations were also represented.  According to the Argentinian representative, “At the assembly, there were a lot of exchanges during which we could meet and get to know young people from Cuba” and discuss the revolution, the construction of socialism, internationalism and unity. “We also want to see revolution in our own countries and regions; the assembly allowed us to see and experience the agrarian reform we dream of, as well as food sovereignty and revolution.”

In terms of expectations, she pledged to “continue building our socialism, getting involved in struggles and taking the fight to the streets. That is a key part of our role as young people and as a part of rural life. Continuing with grassroots work, building our training spaces, contributing to these spaces that already exist and remaining active, making them stronger, that is our commitment. To continue fighting on the ground, producing, and being able to carry out this training with young people form the city, and to learn from them too.”

They especially appreciated visiting peasant farming communities in Cuba where young people were active: “We were able to see the agroecology and, above all, the organisation that exists in Cuba. The Cuban youth is united under one organisation, the Unión de Jóvenes Comunistas de Cuba (UJC), and that is something we would like to see in our own countries; however, that will be the hardest battle.”

Finally, Gómez reinforced the commitment of solidarity with the Cuban people regarding the economic block, much like that commitment made to the people of Honduras, Nicaragua and Venezuela. She outlined the desire to continue fighting for food sovereignty in every country and highlighted the importance of building on the Declaration of the Rights of Peasants, approved by the United Nations.