César Sánchez is one of the only young faces among dozens of producers selling their produce in the farmer’s market in Santa Tecla, on the outskirts of El Salvador’s capital city.
I’m reporting a story on the participation — or lack of participation — of youth in agriculture in El Salvador, so the young man catches my eye.
Standing over a spread of fresh fruits and vegetables, the 26-year-old explains that back in his community, located over 50 km west of San Salvador, there is also “little interest” among youth in producing food.
Most people his age flock from the countryside in search of jobs, he says, leaving few to carry the agricultural torch.
It’s a familiar story for many agricultural areas in the north and south alike, and one I’ve already heard from other rural communities in El Salvador. I ask the young producer what it would take to convince his peers to bet on farming.
“We have to make known the importance of agriculture for people and for the country and also support and incentivize youth with tools and knowledge,” he says over the hum of the vendors hawking their wares and customers filling their shopping bags.
Sánchez, who produces in a cooperative with about 30 other producers organized in the Izalco Cooperative Association of Agricultural Production in the department of Sonsonate, believes that more creative thinking and development in rural areas could disrupt the trend in his generation.
“In agriculture, there’s a big lag. There’s little innovation,” he says. “In knowledge, there’s also a lag. There’s no progress in new forms of producing.”
“We are also falling into monocultures — only producing [sugar] cane or coffee or cacao — and few are interested in diversifying their farms,” he adds. “Producing only one thing creates dependency.“
He’s not the first person to tell me that a shift to organic agriculture is key to the future of agriculture in a country set to be hard hit by global warming.
At an organic agriculture training center in Suchitoto, 50 km north east of the capital city, Augustin Durán, a 49-year-older farmer who fought with the rebel army during the country’s 12-year civil war, preaches that organic production is the only solution in the face of climate change.
“What we are trying to do is reclaim ancestral culture, knowledge and practices,” he says.
But the process isn’t easy, and Durán says El Salvador shouldn’t be overly optimistic nor pessimistic about the future of agriculture.
“In this country it is difficult to create laws that support agriculture and incentivize youth,” he says.
Many producers, young and old, tell me that the government could do much more to support farmers, such as offering subsidies, ensuring land access, and improving access to markets.
But back at the Santa Tecla market, Sánchez also makes clear that youth who do choose to produce food for El Salvador aren’t going to wait for solutions to be handed to them. Instead, some like him are thinking about how to guarantee the future of agriculture, even in small ways.
“We are trying to save as many seeds as we can and safeguard them for the new generations,” he says. “We have to value the resources we have.”
– Heather Gies