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Harnessing the talent of rural youth in Guatemala

FAO is supporting young entrepreneurs in rural Guatemala

Key Facts

In Guatemala, young women and men often hold precarious jobs in the informal rural economy, earning half of the minimum national wage. Increasingly, they try to migrate to urban areas or abroad as a last desperate resort for making a living.

To address this challenge, the FAO Integrated Country Approach (ICA) for promoting decent rural employment has been implementing various coordinated activities in migration-prone areas of the country, contributing to the implementation of Guatemala’s National Decent Work Policy.

Since 2015, ICA’s overall objective in Guatemala is to empower rural youth as entrepreneurs and agents of economic development in rural areas, while enhancing the existing policy environment to focus on them as a priority group.

To do so, FAO is supporting youth in designing and starting up multi-sectorial productive initiatives in their communities, adopting a collaborative economy approach.

The world is facing a global unemployment crisis and young women and men are particularly disadvantaged: their unemployment rate is almost three times higher than that of adults. At the same time, there is a largely untapped reservoir of farm and non-farm employment opportunities in agriculture. The challenge is to ensure that rural development creates decent and productive employment opportunities for the youth. This requires an integrated approach to agriculture and rural development with a particular focus on increasing coherence among policies related to agriculture, employment and youth.

FAO developed an Integrated Country Approach (ICA) for promoting decent rural employment to address these needs. The approach leverages policy and strategy advice, technical support and capacity development, partnerships, as well as advocacy and communication. 

A business laboratory for rural youth

One of the initiatives implemented as part of the ICA programme in Guatemala is La Factoria de trabajo, a business laboratory helping young women and men start up community-centred entrepreneurial activities. The initiative has provided a 3-month training on entrepreneurial skills and local development to 60 young women and men, between the ages of 20 and 30, from the migration-prone areas of Quetzaltenango, San Marcos, Huehuetenango and Totonicapán.

In parallel to the training, the initiative has supported the youth in assessing local markets, defining alliances and formulating financially-viable project proposals to be implemented with their communities. All projects have a strong link to agriculture and livestock and explore the potential of niche markets and green entrepreneurship. Each of them aims to engage 50 to 100 families from each community, organized into a cooperative. Around 50 of these proposals will be directly supported by FAO and the Ministry of Economy in leveraging the necessary investments.

“In my community there are often tough decisions to be taken, such as sending children or even babies abroad. Everyone migrates: young boys and girls, young women and even entire families,” explains María Chum Pastor, one of the youth involved in La Factoria.

María is a 26-year-old farmer from Climentoro, in the Municipality of Aguacatán. Thanks to this initiative, she has designed, together with her community, a multi-sectorial business project, which focuses on cattle rearing, production and commercialization of cheese, potatoes and green vegetables and the elaboration of organic fertilizers. This will enable her to boost the current subsistence farming of her family, create a cooperative and facilitate the establishment of 10 to 15 microenterprises in her community.

“Agriculture is part of our culture; it is a gift from our predecessors. So we need to preserve it by making it more sustainable,” states María. “The project is generating a change in my life and in the life of my community, of which I now feel proud,” she concludes.

Another young beneficiary of La Factoríais 25-year-old Nelson Chun Ramírez from the village of La Independencia in the Municipality of Tejutla. Three years ago, Nelson tried to migrate to the United States, following many other young men of his community. Today, with the support of La Factoría, he is working to aggregate production of vegetables and meat from the producers in his village, including his own, to improve commercialization and reach the regional and national markets.   

“I wanted to migrate out of a lack of employment opportunities. Thanks to La Factoría, I now see the potential opportunities that I have here in my home and with my family,” Nelson says. “Participating in this initiative has allowed me to get a much broader vision of my project. I would like to create employment opportunities for the young men and women from my community who want to stay by the side of their loved ones, without having to move elsewhere.”

Manuel Antonio Figueroa Pérez is 20 and comes from the Municipality of Tacaná in San Marcos. He is working on the establishment of an eco-touristic centre, called Linda Vista, which will involve the entire community by commercializing local products such as mushrooms, fruits, medicinal plants and coffee.

“Rural communities often do not have the necessary experience or technical assistance in order to start entrepreneurial initiatives. Likewise, there is no financial capital for it and employment opportunities tend to be very scarce,” Manuel points out.

“Now, thanks to the training offered by La Factoría, I am able to see that there are endless resources that have never been put to use and from which it is now possible to benefit as much as possible. I believe that in five years I will be part of an enterprise or an ecotourism complex that is productive and generates decent job opportunities.”

Replicating and sustaining the initiative

Manuel, Nelson, and María are just three of the 60 “Rural Youth Champions” selected to become agents of rural development within their communities. They are currently collaborating with FAO and Guatemalan public and private institutions in order to give visibility to the projects supported by La Factoría, as well as to attract potential private investment and Government support.

FAO is collaborating with the Ministry of Agriculture in Guatemala developing a web platform linked to a mobile application to further increase the visibility of these initiatives. This, in turn, will facilitate the establishment of new networks of young entrepreneurs and enhance their access to technical support as well as financial resources, including through crowdfunding, remittances (funds made available by Guatemalans who migrated abroad) and microcredits.

La Factoría, as a training approach to identify the areas for business development and to empower young people to be able to take advantage of them, can be easily replicated. FAO is currently working with public and private stakeholders to identify innovative solutions for the next, most difficult steps: leveraging investment capital and formalizing the business. 

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