South American Youth between realities and perspectives

Thursday 17 October 2013

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Authorship: Alcides Ramírez Caballero*.

Editorial and Canal: Institute for Rural Development in South America (Instituto para el Desarrollo Rural de Sudamérica) (IPDRS).

Type of Document: Article.

Language: Spanish.

Subject: Food sovereignty.

Keywords: Agro-ecology, peasantry, rural development, social inequality, migrants, identity, rural youth, agro-exporting model, cultural patterns, public policies and food sovereignty.

Countries and Regions: Paraguay.

A look into South America.

Within the situation faced by rural youth in the South American countries one can find some common characteristics but there are more common denominators among Argentina, Brazil, Chile and Paraguay, as indicated in the report drafted by the Latin American Center on Youth (CELAJU by its acronym in Spanish), Rural Youth Organization and Movements in Five Countries of MERCOSUR, Present situation and Proposals for its strengthening, Montevideo, July 2004”.

The document stresses the scarce paid working opportunities, in general without legal acknowledgement and social benefits confronting rural youth compared with its urban peers. At an early age they start a primary labor activity for which they do not get any payment, in general at family farms, since the labor force of youth constitutes labor hand helping to maintain the economy of peasant families. Becoming of age at a very early state, the youth are seen as such within the rural communities, where there is an adult culture –central and patriarchal, with cultural values and standards affecting the social relationship among them.

Another common variable among South American youth is the growing figure of male elements in the rural population, due to an increase in the migration of women, mainly to large cities and even to some European countries, since the economic crisis and the lack of opportunities compel them to a either temporal or permanent displacement, thus creating population gaps in many peasant communities in South America, while also stressing the loosing of its natural roots

Within this reality education of migrant rural youth is transformed into an unreachable main wish, more tan a feasible Project; the urgency defines the need of working in the present while the future is seen as non linked to concrete life, a condition which ends in creating difficulties or directly hindering the possibility of designing future lives.

Challenges for the implementation of rights.

The youth has new rights and responsibilities at present, according to its greatest participation in public issues affecting them and in the general decision making process of the community and of the civil society.

These new rights represent changes in the patriarchal tradition and in the gerontocracy, for example, the young minors, that is to say, adolescents, have rights, just like children do, to be heard and to participate in the decision making process of issues affecting them. Nevertheless, in the rural scenario there are authoritarian traditions still active, validating the habit that it is the adult society the one taking decision regarding the role to be played by the youth.

That is why we need an inter-generation dialogue on the needs of this sector of the population, as well as on the contributions demanded from them and those not demanded. On the other hand, it is fundamental to take into consideration the indigenous youth with its specificities and their own cultural patterns, who, within the framework of promoting their rights, need to wage a jointly struggle with the peasantry, since many of their needs are the same, for example, Access to land, to education, to health, etc...

Creating its own identity.

One of the consequences of the so called decrease in the presence of peasants at the rural communities is the loss of the territorial sovereignty and of the cultural elements, such as traditions, creating identities and at the same time, a way of living and of feeling different. It is important to know and to love peasant life, to ask oneself who you are, what do we represent for others. Identity takes to to reflect on our subjective, family and social history, it helps us to find out about our referents, our experiences and our ideals.

When we refer to rural development it is important to state the creation of an identity given the fact that it is the only way we can fight the loss of roots and return to the matrix allowing us to create values and a sense of belonging. In this way we can love our land, fully live the peasant life and concentrate the idas and the knowledge to enrich rural life with a sovereign perspective, guaranteeing the implementation and the progress of people that were born in the countryside and who want to continue supporting and creating in full a harmonic way of living with nature and its peers.

The conception of development for rural youth should take into consideration, necessarily, the senses of belonging and of consolidation of the identity, and it is important to stress that there are differences in the historic construction of places and individual aspects expressed in a particular manner.

To attain that rural youth will acknowledge themselves and their history might be a strength allowing them to attain a bigger main role and to exert influence on productive projects, looking for a rural development fostered and proposed by themselves, without requiring to emigrate and leave behind their culture, walking around large cities in the quest of “better living conditions”.

This deep path of the youth might make local and national governments, and even groups from the prívate entrepreneurial sector, to set priorities and to guarantee local development and decent work for those deciding to stay and to develop their own environment. This vision includes as a must to take into consideration the needs human beings have to survive, produce and reproduce their material life in a permanent contact with nature, the one who provide them with elements to satisfy their needs, and the close and constant contact with other men and women, which is part of the culture and the style of rural life.

In the process of this social construction it is fundamental to take into consideration the equality of opportunities for women, also considering that peasant cultures normally entail patriarchal habits and traditions. An example of this is the clam presented by the youth to transform the leadership conditions in the rank and file and community organizations. At least this is the stand taken by the main peasant organizations in Paraguay, such as the National Peasantry Federation, the Organization to Fight for the Land and the National Coordinator of Rural and Indigenous Women, where gender equality is being installed, looking for equality among women and men within organizations.

The Paraguayan case.

In Paraguay, out of ten youth graduating from secondary education only three will be able to Access technical or university studies, and to do so, they will be forced to emigrate to a neighboring city or to the head of the province.

According to the experiences narrated by representatives of this population at the Assembly of the Rural Youth in the year 2012, the agro-exporting model enacted in the country generates a system of a decrease in the amount of peasants and a loss of identity, aside of creating a greater social inequality. In the absence of public policies that guarantee full rights for the youth coming from the countryside, they are forced to create new forms of survival in the periphery areas of the large cities, thus transforming themselves into urban pariahs, condition that added to the loss of their roots, make them more vulnerable to constantly suffer the violation of their rights.

The youth emigrates with dreams and imagines a kind of urban life offering them better living conditions and thousands of youth suffer after finding a reality totally different from what they imagined in their dreams, and they begin to suffer frustrations that in the end entail a life style without a proper civic participation, especially, with a possible loss of the cultural identity forged in the countryside.

In Paraguay there are 40 million hectares with the right potential to be used in agriculture and cattle raising, an agrarian reform not completed and the increase of extensive agriculture for export purposes, generates on a daily basis more migration from the countryside toward urban areas, while the population decreases, and in some regions the rural population is disappearing.

Just 2% of owners concentrate 84% of lands, while 6,6% of land owners in its vast majority does not have a ownership titles. According to the agriculture census of 2012, 29% of agricultural workers with a vocation to toil the land does not have that resources, which is to say they are landless farmers, basically youth between 18 and 30 years of age. This situation is so serious that indigenous populations that does not have land and have lost their territories were displaced to the periphery of the cities or are occupying areas either in the capital of the country or in other provinces with a large trade flow, such as Ciudad del Este and neighboring areas.

There is a phenomenon of peasant expulsion created by the agro-exporting model, taking away from thousand of peasants their land and structure State institutions to only defend the interest of large land owners. At the same time, in the bordering areas with neighboring countries large extensions of land are being consolidated in the hands of foreign settlers and entrepreneurs that are devoting all this land to soya crop, with the consequence of a loss of territory, of food sovereignty and of territorial sovereignty. It is a well known fact that when you dominate the food of a people, it is very easy to handle it. Thus it is a must to recover territorial, food and economic sovereignty, that is to say, to attain a comprehensive sovereignty.

In recent years the debate around the agrarian reform is the most important issue within the peasant youth movements, stressing in the creation of agendas of public opinion. Nevertheless, conservative groups, traditional political parties and some media dispute the opinion regarding agrarian reform, stating that the poverty problems are not a consequence of large rural estates, and they have began to criminalize social struggles. At the same time, State powers, mainly the Legislative and the judicial ones instead of fighting against large rural estates and lands non legally acquired, defend it and foster small holding, hiding behind the prejudice that “peasants do not want to work”.

Other prejudice widely spread are, on the one hand, that peasants should get non productive lands, because non-productivity is a setback not only for socialism but also for capitalism, and rural development is only possible with the agro-exporter model, with the participation of large multinational companies such as Monsanto, Syngenta, Cargill and other corporations due to the volumes of its investments.

Within this framework, there is still the need to create visions for youth organizations on rural development and food sovereignty. The discourse and the orientation of the youth should include proposals of adequate technologies, which support and guarantee the work for young peasants, think about industrialization models of small and médium size productions, confronting monoculture and without damaging the environment and biodiversity. All this turns into an urgent thing to install in the debate a political and ideological debate on rural and social development with a youth perspective.

Agro-ecology , a response?

Agro-ecology is not only a science but also it is a symbol of struggle among countries in South America where this approach is a component to struggle for agrarian reform: an important challenge posed by the Latin American Agro-ecology Institute. Its methodological framework is study and agriculture academic training, forging knowledge with the community. The matrix used by the Institute is a type of production known as “from peasants to peasants”, implemented by Socialist Cuba.

The agro-ecological production model states development alternatives that defend Creole and native seeds and fosters the construction of collective industries based on the harmony between human beings and nature, defends the environment and rejects any type of pollution.

The Latin American Agro-ecologic Institute is a project promoted by the Latin American Coordinator of Countryside Organizations with the aim of training militants to transform the agro-exporting model, especially the youth with technical and scientific knowledge stressing agro-ecology, jointly with their participation on peasant and indigenous organizations that might contribute with this knowledge to settlements and communities that are victims of agro toxic products.

Development with the rural youth.

Rural development should be linked to cultural praxis and local and regional needs and to the link of these with foreign demand, thus it should be comprehensive and sustainable, in such a way that it includes the care and protection to the environment as a fundamental component for human development. This brings about a relation between development and agro-ecological practices as a production system based on social, cultural, environmental, political and economic sustainable principles.

With agro-ecological production practices are implementing that benefit nature, improving the natural fertility conditions of land, obtaining a healthy production and favoring, in this manner, the health of agricultural worker families and of the consumers of agro-livestock products, which at the end might create a space for social wellbeing, and good practices in the environmental care.

The fact of attaining an agro-ecological production within the framework of a self-sustaining production includes the ecological management of soils, the use of a proper technology, the diversification of production, a forestry and agro-forestry system and seed Banks.

These proposals, to be effectively implemented should be included in the curriculum mesh of schools, colleges and universities, especially in careers such as agronomy and related branches; to foster more schools with technical-agro-livestock high school graduates and education centers generating agro-livestock promoters with the technical capacity to provide assistance to communities and local organizations. To ensure these processes we need both public and private cooperation, from civil society organizations and the guarantee of an equal footing participation of women (in general entrusted with the preservation and use of native seeds and of the care of animals), generating strategies and mechanisms of affirmative action.

In fact, the action of entrepreneurs is one of the best alternative action lines for youth to contribute to a comprehensive development, with agro-ecological products generated and produced within family farms. An example of this are the organization experiences of he small and medium size enterprises and the agro-industrialization, in which there is an increasing demand for management capacities to make a reality out of the dreams of the micro and medium size companies engaged in peasant agro-ecological production.

* He has a BA in Social Work, specialized in the work with the youth in the rural area. At present he is the coordinator of the Association of Rural Youth Living in Asuncion and he is the responsible of training for the Fundación Paraguaya.

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