La Canasta Campesina, an organic agricultural cooperative in El Salvador, is working to employ young people in agriculture. Their programming helps address the low interest in agriculture among much of the country’s youth.
The cooperative operates a Community Supported Agriculture (CSA)-type agribusiness that provides about 400 baskets of fresh produce each month to subscribers in the country’s capital, San Salvador. All products are organic and grown locally on small family plots in the rural community of Comasagua, about 30 km from the capital.
According to the president of La Canasta Campesina, Kasandra Portillo, about 30% of its staff is made up of young people. Portillo herself is 25 and entered her role as president at the age of 23. The cooperative’s desire to give young people a voice in operations is one of the reasons it has been successful in fostering youth engagement.
The average age of Salvadoran farmers is nearly 60, according to the country’s Ministry of Agriculture and Livestock. A statistic that reflects a problematic trend of aging farmers around the world and a lack of interest among younger generations.
“For many years, working in agriculture has been associated with backbreaking work, poverty and backwardness,” Hazell Flores, YPARD’s communications coordinator for Latin America and the Caribbean, told Food Tank. “For this reason, it is not attractive to young people, especially rural youth, who face a lack of educational opportunities. [and] a decent income. She adds that parents, many of whom are farmers themselves, often discourage their children from having a future in agriculture. They do so in hopes of a better life for the next generation.
René Castro, IFAD country director for El Salvador and neighboring countries, tells Food Tank that the reluctance of young people to engage in agriculture is driven by a multitude of factors observed in the region. Low wages, migration pressure, climate change and industry’s lack of adaptation are straining an already difficult profession.
According to Castro, younger generations also want more modern systems that embrace new technologies and respect the environment. These elements are often lacking in the traditional agriculture that dominates the region. And Salvadoran youth are generally not able to implement change.
“Often, to be able to actively participate in agriculture within these communities, you need to be part of a producer organization, because it is very difficult for young people to have sufficient assets and income to start their own business. agriculture,” Castro explains. Food tank. “And becoming an active voting member, with decision-making power, in producer organizations can be difficult, especially for young women.”
La Canasta Campesina began as a development project, led by a French NGO, following an earthquake in 2009. The cooperative now employs more than 100 people, around 90% of whom are women.
“It is very important that we dignify the lives of women and young people… and that we are the local actors, either to identify the needs of our communities or to carry out projects,” Portillo told Food Tank. La Canasta Campesina’s agricultural approach provides more to the community than income. “Agroecology gives [women] the security of being able to offer a good, balanced and diversified diet at a lower cost because we use the inputs provided by Mother Earth,” explains Portillo.
The leading role of women in the organization has naturally led to the involvement of young people in the community, who are often their children. The opportunities were essential to maintain this involvement.
Portillo wants young people to understand that “farming is not only hard work but also an opportunity for training, in ecology and in other fields…such as marketing, business administration, information, [and] in the tourism sector.
The cooperative provides training for employees through in-house workshops and through postgraduate scholarship opportunities. The scholarship potential gives young people the opportunity to pursue a technical degree at a university to further develop their skills. Young people also have a place in decision-making for projects and community advocacy, contributing to the development of their leadership capacities.
La Canasta Campesina helps young people develop professionally and personally, in part, so that they can recognize the important role they have to play in the world. Portillo sums up this self-recognition as “valuing the fact that we are campesinos and campesinos with pride”.
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Photo courtesy of La Canasta Campesina