GFAR blog, Research in society

Working together in the rural areas of the Mediterranean


In October 2015, key partners in the Mediterranean region met to ensure that rural communities in the region were not forgotten from development activities in the south and north of the Mediterranean.

Where are we at, one year later? How far has the Foundation of the South-North Mediterranean Dialogue come in generating rich dialogue as vector of peace and tolerance? What about GFAR’s role in catalyzing collective action, including rural communities? Also, what are the new approaches of the EU neighborhood policies: the policy framework of rural development in the region, and what is the point of view of the South? What were the next steps taken by the different partners, from local to global level: development workers, farmers, policy makers and the civil society since then? A meeting in October 2016 in Rome helped to assess these.

Working together at all levels, to address the challenges of rural areas, with a strong perspective on the future, remains the central idea of the partners. Young people positioned themselves as key stakeholders in these discussions and contributed to collective perspectives for a present and a future that requires their active participation.

Youth, recognized as fundamental agents of change for better living conditions, were invited to the discussions in 2015. As a result of these discussions and further online exchanges, a leading group – YPARD Mediterranean: the Mediterranean chapter of the Young Professionals Network for Agricultural Development – was born. This year, the dialogues went a step further and gave a more crucial place to topics specific to young people, even though the youth presence was still limited.

Our key message through our presence would not have been better expressed by the Executive Secretary of GFAR, Mark Holderness: “The disillusionment of young people is a challenge, but we also see a powerful energy among young people to drive change.”

This included discussing youth involvement in decision-making and collective actions with other partners. During the meeting, we expressed the need for a common vision, intergenerational dialogues and working WITH youth. Practical steps necessary for the inclusion of young people in decision making requires to keep ensuring the active presence of young people in discussions, to equip them with the confidence and skills they need and to give them the space to be leaders of change. YPARD was particularly invited to join the European movement of rurality, a collective of 17 organizations.

We reiterated our development perspective: the rural exodus is not a fatality; we need more participatory dialogues where communities (young people included!) draw their own development and rural areas are considered as a whole beyond agricultural and economic activities. This call to make rural areas more attractive by human services and infrastructure in particular has received much echo throughout the dialogues and is emerging as a central point of development. Young people need and are willing to take part in these dynamics.

A stronger South-North cooperation on an equal footing, is a desire, a challenge and a global development challenge. Young people show activities and networks that enable real common and egalitarian dynamics where members self-organize themselves and directly address their needs, making their differences a strength. YPARD is one example; the “Food Innovation Summer School” is another, and many others that have not emerged due to lack of resources. The ideas and desires of collaboration and solidarity are strong the funding shortage notwithstanding.

Quality education is the cornerstone of the active participation of young people. Educational programs need to be constantly reassessed and adapted to meet the needs and aspirations of young people as professionals. Young LEAD is a program in Egypt which aims to bring these skills lacking in official programs. A young graduate expressed the importance of helping young people to express their individuality and to explore their abilities, leadership and teamwork, reflect and act together, work with others in their diversity and create a human connection, such as being flexible and adapt. Online platforms are also meant to fill the gap in rural areas.

A fortiori, young people – professionals and students – must contribute to the design and evaluation of educational programs, and the impact of programs should be measured on the ground. As beneficiaries, their prospects both in substance and in form make the programs relevant. That was the message of Fatima Bensoltane from Tunisia. This is also reflected in the focus of YPARD and GCHERA’s collaboration through GFAR’s partnership. Young professionals are regularly invited through YPARD to discussions with university consortia to share their perspectives as young graduates with professional experience. This, however, cannot fully function if the universities give more prominence to their educational performance versus their research work.

Finally, the limitations of access to land and finance remains a major challenge for the youth. Young people do not have their own funds and no credibility to win the trust of banks. Coldiretti youth shared the pro-youth initiatives that exist in Italy: there are programs to help young people to implement farms but this doesn’t include the accompanying of the project which often leads to failure. Similarly, in Tunisia plots of land were given to young people but without the support of qualified technicians in arid areas. These instances beg the question: how do you ensure a real and lasting change for new generations?Coldiretti advocates for supporting young farmers during the first five years of their project with the help of local institutions and banks.

But also, the dialogues were an opportunity to reaffirm that young people want to take their own responsibility for their growth: they want to decide for themselves, act and lead by example. According to Rabii from Tunisia, Fisnik’s initiative as a young strawberry agri-entrepreneur in Kosovo is one example to follow. “Personally it made me want to take over and return to the land of my father in the Northwest plains of Tunisia Jendouba governorate. Yes, why not, a young executive in administration who returns to the rural world to work their land, the land of his ancestors? The farming season has just started in Tunisia and I will do everything I can to reap my wheat next summer. “  said Rabii

Looking ahead, the 2016 dialogues aimed to set the trajectory for the 2017-2018 Mediterranean Foundation and its 2017-2018 action plan. The dialogue will help to continue feeding open debates and promote collective action between the south and the North. Several possible themes and objectives were raised, including the need to address migration issues, resilience and adaptation in rural areas, youth’s active contribution in the content and the processes, and the sharing of best practices. These will be circulated among partners, including youth, to set the way to a common vision for the future and living together.

Watch the interview of Karim Akrout of SINAGRI, Union of Tunisian farmers who presents the key points of the meeting. Rural development goes beyond agriculture. We need to understand the mindset and rural aspirations, especially those of the youth. 

This post by Marina Cherbonnier was originally published on the YPARD Blog. To learn more about GFAR’s role in supporting this and previous Mediterranean Dialogues, click here

Photo Credit: Mark Holderness, GFAR

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