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Youth leaders working towards transformative rural development

12 August 2020

© Gralha Azul

Over the past decade, the world has witnessed a rise of youth movements demanding transformation. From climate action groups to political institutions, youth are taking on leading roles and bringing new perspectives to the table – showing they are not only the future, but also the present.

When it comes to youth in rural areas, the scenario is no different. Although rural youth face extra challenges and additional layers of exclusion compared to other youth, they are nevertheless finding their way to being the change they want to see in the world.

We have identified 10 initiatives throughout the Latin America and the Caribbean region that are promoting climate action, generating income through community-led organizations, safeguarding and passing on local knowledge and traditions, and more. Each of them has answered an open call from the Rural Youth Innovation Award, a project organized by IFAD and financed by the China-IFAD South-South and Triangular Cooperation Facility. The Award focuses on identifying and promoting innovative projects that can be role models within the region – and, above all, that are made up of young people.

Here, we share a glimpse of those 10 stories. Selected from among 570 entrants, each of the winners below showcases its founders’ passion, vision for the future and belief in the potential of innovation, even in challenging times.

Una Mano para Oaxaca (“A Hand for Oaxaca”) knows a thing or two about overcoming challenges. This group from rural southern Mexico is dedicated to promoting economic, cultural and societal recovery after the 2017 earthquake that devastated much of the Oaxaca region. Like all recovery initiatives, this one is a group effort, relying heavily on community engagement to help bring the region back.

In this photo, a woman from Huazolotilán proudly shows off her bread oven, rebuilt with the initiative’s support.

Over a thousand kilometres away, another group of young Mexicans faces a different challenge: How can we contribute to a sustainable world built upon a circular economy – that is, one in which resources are used and reused continually, with zero waste? The answer lies in their hands: black soldier fly larvae. Hexa Biotech combines their technical expertise with their desire to see a world with Zero Hunger. They use organic waste to feed their larvae, which will go on to become a sustainable food source for fish, chicken and even cattle herds.

AgroWayu, a Peruvian initiative focused on combating child malnutrition, wants to see Zero Hunger too.

With a pen in hand and extra samples of his product – a nutrient-rich jelly made mostly of passionfruit and chia – AgroWayu representative Gian Pierre asks local kids what they thought of it. This group’s work reminds us of the importance of promoting inclusion from the producers all the way to the end consumer, making sure that everyone, including indigenous families, reaps the benefits.

Empowering local families is also one of the cornerstones of Gralha Azul (“Azure Jay”). This initiative from a small town in the countryside of Brazil’s Paraná state benefits over 32 families, including indigenous people and quilombolas (an ethnic community descended from Africans who fled slavery).

Through their work, they promote extreme sports tourism in partnership with small-scale producers and family farmers, generating income and promoting their local culture and products.

Preserving local knowledge goes hand in hand with land restoration. The Grupo de Coletores de Sementes do Cerrado (“Cerrado Seed Collectors’ Group”) uses native seeds to restore the Cerrado, a tropical savannah biome found in northern Brazil. They also promote proper use of the territory through their work, maintaining four demonstrative reforestation units to showcase their methods.

Here, two participants are hard at work in Minas Gerais state.

Reforestation is essential to effective climate action. In her efforts to preserve her local forests, Karem Bejarano has launched multiple tree-sponsoring campaigns across the Alaska region of Colombia through her Sembrando Vida (“Seeding Life”) initiative. The project is already attracting positive attention and sponsorship, even from outside the country.

In all she does, Karem works hard to make sure that climate action goes hand in hand with social inclusion. She believes that, through simple gestures, we can scale up and change the world.

Do you believe you’re already eating healthy just because you buy vegetables? Eduardo Benjamin wants to debunk that myth for you. He and his partners founded Flor de Tierra (“Earth Flower”), a Guatemalan initiative dedicated to promoting food security and sustainable agricultural practices. Much of their work focuses on mainstreaming the use of organic fertilizers, which produce better – and healthier – results than conventional fertilizers.

Above, Eduardo holds tomatoes that are a result of their efforts.

Food security is the lifeblood of Grupo Pé Na Terra (“Foot on the Ground Group”). These five young people have gathered to promote sustainable and healthy family agriculture. They cultivate food through good agroforestry practices and operate at all levels of the value chain – from producer to consumer – by also maintaining an open market and a restaurant, both located in the city of Sananduva, in Brazil’s Paraná state.

During a visiting day, José Eduardo checks in with Wilson, a local farmer in the countryside of Brazil’s Espírito Santo state. It’s business as usual for Raiz Capixaba, a start-up that connects small-scale producers with purchasers. The agtech company has developed a system that predicts the amount of food each farmer will produce and then relays that information to its purchasing companies. This process makes sure that small-scale producers stay connected to the market – and helps ensure that just the right amount of organic produce makes its way to the tables of consumers in the big cities. 

On the opposite coast of South America, Libertat teaches courses in financial literacy throughout rural areas of Colombia. They believe that everyone, regardless of academic background, income level or access to technology, has the right to good personal finance – and to start on the path to financial independence.

Here, young participants from the city of Yopal show off the certificates they’ve earned through completing one of Libertat’s courses.

Until recently, many have spoken about the importance of taking action toward a more sustainable and diverse future. What’s different about the 10 groups we’ve featured here, plus many more like them, is that they don’t just talk – they act. Their work makes a difference in the lives of rural youth, and it’s also paving the way for sustainable, inclusive rural transformation.

Click here to learn more about the Rural Youth Innovation Award and our finalists.