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Rural Youth Innovation Award honours youth leaders fighting COVID-19

12 August 2021

One of the many lessons we’ve learned in our ongoing battle with COVID-19 is that we must find new solutions to achieve the SDGs. Small-scale producers continue to face multiple challenges – both those caused by the pandemic and those that were there before – and supporting these producers and bringing about sustainable transformation of our food systems will require unprecedented innovation.

IFAD believes in the tremendous innovative capacity of rural youth – and we take seriously our responsibility to support young people in their constant search for change and innovation. That’s why this year’s Rural Youth Innovation Award in Latin America and the Caribbean, a project financed by the China-IFAD SSTC Facility, focused on initiatives led by young people fighting the pandemic.

We received over 130 applications from 15 countries across the region. The initiatives focused on a wide range of topics, including market access, recycling and alternative energy solutions, connectivity, financial inclusion, and gender equity.

After months of deliberation, we chose nine of those initiatives to receive the Award. This is a glimpse into their stories.

The AGROUNE initiative, from Colombia, has developed a low-risk agricultural investment platform designed to make sure small-scale farmers won’t get left behind. The money they’ve raised – over 480 million Colombian pesos (about US$126,000) over the last two years – goes on to support rural small-scale producers’ production and marketing efforts, allowing them to obtain fair and profitable prices for their products.

Here, AGROUNE CEO Weimar Mesa (left) poses with a farmer who has been able to expand his production of passionfruit thanks to the financial support he’s received from the platform.

Out here in the Colomi community of rural Bolivia, gas stations are few and far between. The one being built here serves an extra purpose.

Like many other rural Bolivian communities, Colomi is working with CAMINNOS, an initiative that brings an innovative approach to individual and collective entrepreneurship. CAMINNOS trains rural communities not only how to construct and operate community-led gas stations like the one pictured here, but also how to reinvest the profits into sustainable development projects. The end result is a net positive for these communities – and the environment.

Crossing the Nacopai River is never a challenge for the members of the CHAO COVID 19 group, but it’s always a privilege. Today, they’re helping a woman entrepreneur from La Cuchilla de San Antonio Mountain, in Colombia’s rural La Guajira province. Their bags are loaded with her merchandise – milk, soft drinks, magazines and other supplies – destined for sale on the other side of the mountain.

>The group, made up of rural young people displaced by the country’s internal conflict, was formed in response to the pandemic. They’ve set up rural-urban supply chains that travel in both directions: They journey from urban areas out to the countryside, bringing goods like food and hygiene supplies to vulnerable rural families. There, they pick up the families’ agricultural products – like milk, bananas and yucca – and bring them back to the cities to sell on their behalf, saving them the trip (and the potential COVID exposure).

The Comunidades Iluminadas project is bringing clean solar energy to the Peruvian countryside.

Communities in Peru’s remote Amazon region don’t always have continuous access to electricity. But thanks to the solar panels provided by the project, more and more families are able to keep their cell phones, radios and TVs charged and their lamps on. Besides gaining extra hours of light for work and study, they’re able to save some money (as they don’t have to go into the city to access electricity) and have a healthier environment, too.

Pictured here is a family from a rural community in Peru’s Loreto Department who benefits from the initiative.

Another environment-friendly electricity solution comes to us from Colombia’s Energía Grata initiative.

Here, too, solar is proving to be an ideal solution. Families working with the project receive home solar energy kits that can be used to power any number of household devices. Group members also work with communities to set up public lighting systems, transforming local life by creating secure community recreational spaces.

Here, we find Energía Grata members at work in the La Cañada community, in the Bolívar Department.

The Mujeres de Cambio initiative seeks to find spaces of harmony and gender inclusion for women in three rural communities of Mexico’s Tabasco State – and it doesn’t have to look very far.

The project empowers rural women by training them in the production and marketing of local fruits and vegetables and their by-products. With the project’s support, these women are bringing the traditional Mexican sweets, jams and pickles that have been enjoyed for generations to new audiences.

In this photo, women from the indigenous Chontal community of Tucta, in Nacajuca municipality, are learning how to make pineapple-mango jam.

In the heart of Peru’s Ancash Department, the PUTZKAN initiative is putting a modern, eco-friendly twist on traditional clothing.

As we might expect, all of PUTZKAN’s offerings begin as wool from locally raised alpaca and sheep. Add in dyes sourced from native plants and some classic Andean iconography and embroidery, and the end result is a colourful, high-quality, tradition-inspired clothing line.

The project prides itself on being socially and environmentally responsible in other ways, too. It employs women from economically vulnerable rural communities as weavers, and it ensures the sustainability of native flora by repopulating deforested areas with dye-producing trees.

Here, a woman from the Caserío la Esperanza community, in Carhuaz Province, dip-dyes sheep wool in a decoction made with the chilca plant to turn it a verdant green.

Raeasy is a virtual marketplace dedicated to eliminating the intermediaries between Brazil’s rural producers and urban consumers looking for high-quality artisanal products.

Visitors to the website can choose from among a variety of healthy, natural, hand-crafted products offered by over 150 producers. A location service allows visitors to select the products closest to them and have them delivered to their door. Customers can also learn about agro-tourism opportunities available at participating farms.

Here, Raeasy founder Deise Mezzaroba (left) visits a participating farming family in Santa Catarina State.

The TeleSAN network provides telehealth services for Honduras’s isolated communities, connecting remote health units with urban hospitals. Under normal circumstances, its open-source software benefits about 25,000 people, especially kids under five, pregnant women, and adults with diabetes and hypertension.

In 2020, in response to the pandemic, TeleSAN expanded its services to 27 additional health facilities nationwide, extending its outreach to another 100,000 potential beneficiaries. They’ve also begun training local clinic workers on basic first aid and the use of common medical devices.

Here, residents of the Mocorón community in Gracias a Dios Department are pictured at their community health center with their training certificates and medical tools provided by TeleSAN.