Building a better life for rural youth in El Salvador

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Building a better life for rural youth in El Salvador

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©Silverlight Photo & Video El Salvador

The National Rural Youth Assembly performs during IFAD Week in El Salvador. IFAD investments in El Salvador have benefited more than 138,000 families.

From 16 to 20 November IFAD brought together government partners, UN agency and private sector representatives, national and international NGOs and civil society to mark 30 years of partnership between the Salvadoran Government and the Fund.

The event, IFAD Week in El Salvador, gave participants the opportunity to take part in a variety of panels and discussions, with topics ranging from inclusive economic opportunities for rural communities, economic empowerment of women, and how smallholder producers can get equitable access to markets.

There was also a local fair showcasing agricultural products and achievements made by IFAD-supported projects within the country.

Over the past 30 years, IFAD has invested and mobilized more than US$ 300 million in El Salvador, helping to increase employment opportunities, incomes and food security for small agricultural producers.

To mark the occasion, we profiled rural youth in El Salvador who – with support from IFAD-funded projects – are building a better life for themselves.

Declining poverty: Dealing with fragilities

Since 2000, poverty has been steadily decreasing in El Salvador.

Despite the fact that, in the last decade, poverty rates have fallen from 38.8 per cent to 29.6 per cent, a large proportion of the population still is affected by poverty and is considered as "fragile".
"The situation is especially hard for the most vulnerable groups in the rural areas such as young people, women and indigenous peoples. That is why they are front and centre in all our operations," says Glayson Ferrari, IFAD's Country Programme Manager for El Salvador.

Rural youth in El Salvador are in an especially difficult position.

Many rural youth live in conditions of poverty and vulnerability and lack the productive and financial assets needed to launch sustainable ventures, bearing the brunt of the pervasive criminal violence that affects the country.

Without empowered rural youth in the country, all efforts to bring about greater and more inclusive rural development will be in vain, says Ferrari.

"Young people have the answers to many of the challenges rural areas face," he says.

"They are the ones who can increase the use of technologies, develop new services and undertake more competitive businesses. Without them, there is no possible future for rural development."

The National Rural Youth Assembly, which brings together young people working in local youth networks across the country, was one of the highlights during IFAD Week.

The young participants had discussions on the economic and participation opportunities and challenges that Salvadoran youth face in their daily life.

Paving his way out of poverty

Hugo Alfonzo Sánchez, 28, is an example of one such rural youth who has overcome a number of challenges but is building a better life for himself.

Sánchez lives in El Rincón, a small village in the Sonsonate Department, Western El Salvador. The indigenous artisan makes artistic products (clay pots and masks) and is a member of the Farming, Artisanal and Touristic Production Cooperative Association Huitzapan.

"I inherited the trade from my mother, who inherited it herself from her mother," says Sánchez.
In the shop where he works with his mother, Sánchez explains how joining a cooperative changed his life.

"We were not able to cope with big orders. We were producing just for local consumption and making little profit," says Sánchez.

The IFAD-supported Rural Territorial Competitiveness Programme (Amanecer Rural) project helped to set up the cooperative, and  Sánchez and the other members benefitted from training and financing.

This allowed Sánchez to learn about new techniques and invest in new tools. As a result, he was able to both improve the quality and quantity of his production.

"Now that I am a member of the cooperative I can rely on fellow members for advice and guidance and as a result come up with innovative ideas," says Sánchez.

"I can make a living from my art, and that´s something that not so many people can say. I now feel I can achieve whatever I want to."

Local food and tourism

Another success story was that of Tania Carolina Velásquez, 19, and Norma Estela Campos, 20, two young students who turned to tourism as an alternative income-generating activity towards a better life.

The two students live in the Canton El Chile, Santiago Nonualco municipality, department of La Paz. They divide their time between the school and work at the ACPAJOSAN Cooperative, which has 12 young members that work together.

A few year ago the cooperative embarked on the adventure of organizing guided tours around the municipality.

Then, they thought it would be a good idea to offer visitors not just the tours, but the possibility of tasting the local food. So, they opened first a bakery and then a restaurant.

An IFAD-supported project gave the cooperative the financial credit they needed to get started.
"It was hard to put together the money we needed to start these businesses," says Velásquez.

"We asked the municipality to rent us a place to set up the business, but that was not enough. Finally, the PRODEMOR-CENTRAL project gave us the final push we needed by providing a start-up credit."

While the girls tourism business doesn't allow them to make a living, it provides them with the extra cash and employment experience they need to continue their studies.

More importantly, it has helped them believe there is a future in their community, as opposed to going down the path of migrating like many other rural youth.

"Fighting for our dream to come true has taught me a lot," says Campos. "Above all, it made me realize that I really can make things happen if I work together with my colleagues."