Using Digital and Tech Tools to Encourage Rural Youth in Guatemala to Pursue Farming as a Means of Economic Stability
This post was written by Jack Nichting, Masters candidate in secondary education, Old Dominion University, and Virtual Student Federal Service (VSFS) intern with the USAID Bureau for Resilience and Food Security.
As a young person working my way through graduate school, I make a living in the food system, working at a restaurant in Rhode Island. I work alongside young Guatemalans from farming families, who have come to the United States because the agricultural and food system opportunities at home were lacking. They are not alone — a 2017 Pew Research Center study cites economic opportunity as a key factor in a recent rise of immigration to the USA from Guatemala. Hearing my coworkers’ stories got me thinking about the drawbacks of farming jobs in their home country and whether anything was being done to make on-farm opportunities more appealing and sustainable for young people.
While working to co-organize a youth-focused panel discussion during the ICTforAg 2020 conference, I was excited to learn about AgriJoven, a USAID-funded Feed the Future Partnering for Innovation project implemented by Mercy Corps, that is working to use digital and other technologies to facilitate opportunities for young people in agriculture in Guatemala. AgriJoven targets young Guatemalans and seeks to change their perceptions of agriculture, develop a stronger sense of community amongst farmers and provide them with much needed economic security.
Focusing on youth aged 15-24, AgriJoven organized 65 groups a total of 1,060 females (49%) and males (51%), and introduced them to digital strategies aimed at improving the dissemination of innovative farming methods around the country. Through a partnership with the digital media agency Rana Labs, youth participants learn video production and editing techniques in multi-day workshops, which they use to develop training videos on topics ranging from pest management practices to how to install irrigation systems. The young people then use social media and the internet to share the training videos with farmers in surrounding communities and elsewhere in Guatemala. Along with learning, the videos serve to inspire future generations of young farmers and show that young people can be change agents by building futures for themselves.
AgriJoven has worked to revolutionize the ways in which youth save and purchase products. By forming and engaging young people in Village Savings and Loan Associations (VSLAs), AgriJoven is teaching young participants to be financially independent. René Patal, a program implementation officer with Mercy Corps, who participated in the ICTforAg youth-related panel, noted that the youth groups made a total of 934 loan transactions, which facilitated more than $100,000 in financing to youth through the facilitation of small credits. The youth farmers utilized this money to buy high quality seeds and fertilizer, thus ensuring the production of quality vegetables and other crops. Through the savings accounts established by the VSLAs, participants in AgriJoven can receive loans from their groups whenever their specific plots of land are struggling. According to Julio, a youth involved in AgriJoven, utilizing a VSLA is “much easier” than navigating the complexities associated with dealing with financial institutions. Learning how to save provides strongly-desired financial independence to these young farmers.
With regard to crops, through AgriJoven, participants learn various strategies that will make on-farm production easier and more lucrative. Short-cycle horticulture, where farmers dedicate their gardens primarily to planting and harvesting perennial vegetables, is one such strategy. Patal describes this technique as successful. "Short-cycle and diverse crops resonated with the program because of their ability to be harvested twice a year. Through favorable weather conditions, they can achieve higher levels of profit than long-term, single-crop fields — specifically maize," he says. Maize is the crop traditionally harvested in Guatemala, and although these new strategies are a deviation from tradition, Patal notes that they generate greater profits and greater resources for the family.
To tend to these gardens, AgriJoven teaches participating youth how to utilize technology that is more compatible with the environment. For example, water-bottle irrigation, greenhouses and macro tunnels allow farmers to steer clear of synthetic agricultural chemicals and to harvest organic vegetables that are healthier for both the land and people. The success associated with youth uptake of these technological methods creates networks of youth agripreneurs, who are eager to access sustained agricultural profits. This intervention has empowered youth and changed their perceptions about engaging in agriculture as a business by facilitating access to resources they need to become productive, financially stable and independent members of and contributors to society. Patal proudly describes AgriJoven as having empowered youth 'to really learn how to develop their own capital. Throughout the life of the project, they had the opportunity to reach more than $111,000 in savings, or its equivalent in Quetzales." These numbers validate the goal of AgriJoven, and as youth participant Julio is quoted saying, "Our land is full of wealth, but we do not see it. Thanks to the support of Mercy Corps, I have been able to change the way I live. My life has changed."
My VSFS internship with USAID's Bureau for Resilience and Food Security serves as a daily reminder of the constant struggle many individuals around the world experience to achieve economic security in agriculture and food systems. Programs like AgriJoven exist to improve the lives of young rural farmers, who can put useful technologies and good agricultural practices to use to earn a sustainable living. As grateful as I am for the friendship and contributions of my coworkers in the restaurant where I work, I am excited for the day when they and their peers can enjoy economic prosperity in their homeland.
The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and not necessarily the views and opinions of the United States Agency for International Development (USAID).
Brand, N. (2019, May 21) Engaging Youth in Agriculture Through Information and Communication Technology — New Case Study, USAID.
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(2017, October 30) Guatemala’s Youth Chase Their Agricultural Dreams, Feed the Future.
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Pew Research Center (2017, December). Rise in U.S. Immigrants From El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras Outpaces Growth From Elsewhere