Are rural areas aging because youth don´t have access to land?
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Are rural areas aging because youth don´t have access to land?


Photo: Paul Jeffrey

12/08/15 · By Martín Coria · The answer is yes, according to a recent study on rural youth´s livelihood strategies and land tenure done in six countries of Latin America (Nicaragua, Guatemala, Peru, Bolivia, Colombia and the Chaco region of Argentina).


The International Land Coalition (ILC)/PROCASUR report states that one of the main reasons explaining rural youth (both indigenous and campesino) migration are the social and productive barriers they face to stay in their communities, especially relevant are the barriers to secure access to land.


The study is especially relevant to CWS and partners as growing rural youth migration is a phenomenon observed in virtually all CWS-supported rural projects in the region including those in Haiti´s Northwest, Dominican Republic´s bateyes, South America´s Gran Chaco region and Central America.  In some of these locations the casual visitor will notice plenty of children and mature and elderly people but rarely a lot of youth and young people. Where are they and why do they leave? Is youth migration necessarily a bad thing? Is it a free choice made by young people or external factors also play a role? Are CWS-supported interventions on target? Are there any observed gaps? The report offers valuable insight and invites us to rethink some of the questions.


Some of the main findings of the report, which relied on a series of in-depth interviews conducted to campesino and indigenous youth, include:

  • The central role family plays in youth decision-making and strategic choices and how intra-family relations are marked by feelings of interdependency and reciprocity of its members.
  • The positive difference community-organizing embodied in strong community-based organizations such as cooperatives and farmer associations make in expanding opportunities for youth.
  • Often, youth migration in search of education and paid job opportunities, especially of girls, is a family decision carefully planned.
  • The most common way of accessing land is through inheritance which in many cases is still a taboo for many families and favors male children. Communal property of land prevents land fragmentation.
  • Access to land and job and education opportunities are critically important needs for rural youth. Many youth try to integrate the urban and rural world they live in.
  • Generally speaking rural youth values land even if they decide to move to towns and urban centers. They favor maintaining ownership of family land for its emotional significance and as safety net.


“My mother told me, you should study something because farming is hard.” (Maria, 33, Peru)


Photo: Paul Jeffrey

How CWS-supported projects are doing in view of the study findings? Are there observed gaps or adjustments that need to be made to current CWS projects?
CWS has been intentionally looking at rural youth migration for some time so, while it is going to be very helpful in the weeks and months to come, the PROCASUR/ILC report does not take us by surprise. In the meantime:

  • In Haiti´s remote Northwest department and with Food Resources Bank support CWS continues to strengthen a dozen grassroots rural cooperatives that improve community infrastructure, provide access to microcredit and create conditions for small business development. Here, CWS and partners still need to better understand youth and family decision making around migration (including the so-called restavek phenomenon), existing barriers to access to land and how to better support community-led demands for more education opportunities including vocation schools.
  • In South America´s Gran Chaco region and with support from UMCOR, CWS began in 2014 an indigenous women empowerment project aimed at equipping indigenous women, especially young women, with the knowledge, skills and confidence so their voices, demands and proposals can be heard in indigenous organizations and community debates. With Food Resource Bank and Presbyterian Hunger Program support, indigenous communities are preparing community-development plans on recovered land that include youth needs and demands. Here, listening to the experience and voices of the multitude of indigenous youth who migrated to cities and nearby towns is still pending.
  • In Nicaragua, the model farms built with CWS support along the Rio Coco continue to increase the skills of young farmers in the remote Atlantic coast. In the Dominican Republic, CWS continues to support farmers´ efforts to avoid intermediaries and sell their harvest surpluses collectively.
  • In Washington D.C., CWS and advocacy allies like LAWG and WOLA advocate for the proposed Obama Administration aid package to Central America in response to the June 2014 Unaccompanied Children crisis to benefit the rural poor and promote sustainable and equitable development.

As said, while we do not start from zero, CWS and partners can and should do more to make our rural programming rural youth-friendly. Listening to them as ILC and PROCASUR have done is a welcomed step in the right direction.


The Procasur/ILC report is available here (Spanish only)