In the next decade, a large part of the rural population of Bolivia will be adults and seniors. The imminent process of metropolization confirms and deepens that reality. Systematically, fields are emptying, expelling its most valuable capital, young men and women. Between 1950 and 2012 the rural population of Bolivia decreased from 74% to 33% (INE, 2015). In the same period, urban population grew from 26% to 67%. At the national level, 25% are young, but rural youth stands for only 14% of the country's youth.
In December 2017, Agriterra conducted the advisory service 'Participation of young people in Bolivian farmer organizations’, aimed to learn about the situation of rural youth and their inclusion in cooperatives and farmer organisations, clients of Agriterra. Young agripoolers Héctor Madera (CAF, Uruguay) and Ovidio Villca (El Ceibo, Bolivia) conducted the service. Facts and figures in this document are referred to the findings in that service.
Rural youth is diverse. Their socioeconomic environment, geographic location, schooling, links with the city, employability, marital status and the consolidation or not of the generational take over, describe their condition. About 88% of youth receive education. Of that percentage, 12% attend primary school, 42% attend secondary school or receive technical-university education (46%). Strong masculinity persists in university studies related to agriculture. Women opt for branches of social sciences. It is likely that, among others, this condition is related to the inequality by sex in the rural area and, the greater proportion of women who migrate to the urban area, not finding job opportunities for their educational background (66% of rural women coming out from universities are employed). Also, informal trade and the tertiary sector are attractive for rural girls.
Rural youngsters distribute their time between studies and farming, supporting their parents; 59% dedicate only weekends or half of their time to agriculture. This dynamic is strongly supported by their parents, who see in education the differentiating element and the one that will contribute to "moving" them away from the poverty and sacrifices, the current generation had to go through. Regardless of their socioeconomic status, rural youth find that the key factor for their insertion into agricultural activity is the profitability of it.
In Bolivia, the laws that protect the rights and social participation of youth is a recent process and under construction. The ‘Youth Law’ and its regulatory decree, in force since 2015, represent the first step towards the recognition of the full exercise of the rights and duties of young people. The Youth Law structures the institutional framework, the instances of representation and deliberation of youth and the establishment of public policies. In turn, the National Plan for Economic and Social Development (PDES 2016-2020) and the Patriotic Agenda 2025 explicitly incorporate young people. This framework of laws, decrees and strategic agendas, although placed youngsters as protagonists of development, for now does not translate into concrete projects or programs.
When addressing the issue of youth in agriculture it is inevitable to analyse the generational take over. This process of passing along of new generations goes through three stages: (i) The transition of business management, the power and the capacity to use heritage for the next generation. (ii) The legal transfer of ownership, the land and existing assets. (iii) The retirement, when the work of the parents ceases and the power of the current generation over the assets of which the productive unit is composed.
Cooperatives and farmer organisations do not incorporate associates in the age of 16 to 28 years. While in the group of 30-34 years a percentage no greater than 10% corresponds to active members. In general, organisations do not consider strategies or policies for the inclusion of youngsters. This will require, in most cases, upgrading of articles and versatile internal rules, particularly in terms of membership requirements, since youngsters do not own the land nor the farm. Both, current leaders and youngsters agree that the most effective strategy to include youth in farmer organisations is through the creation of a body, organically recognised.
While rural youngsters and leaders affirm that 'lack of interest' is one of the structural causes for the little (or null) integration of rural youth into farmer organisations; however, this assertion obviates the structural causes for such a situation; the lack of an integral approach to provide a solution to the problems faced by young people in rural territories. This situation is due, in part, to the institutional weakness of the organisations and cooperatives themselves, a condition that weakens social cohesion and does not generate sufficiently attractive incentives, for the inclusion of different social groups.