In Brazil, a few kilometers from one of the most popular beaches among young Latin Americans, a group of twenty-somethings are living away from the discotheques, the surf and sand. Instead, they enjoy good incomes, manage their own businesses and avoid the stresses of big city life.
They were born on these lands and – unlike their parents, for whom the countryside was an unfortunate fate – these young people have found their true vocation in agriculture. What is even better, they have the opportunity to develop a long-term professional future although the workload is intense.
"Everything is more relaxed, starting with the clothes we wear,” says 25-year-old Jilson Vargas. He used to work in an office, but it involved a half-hour trip down a dirt road each way. “And I had to wear a suit and tie!” he exclaims.
But Jilson’s life changed completely when the rural youth group he belongs to was finally able to buy the machinery needed to produce rattan. Rattan is used to make baskets and furniture.
Neither he nor his wife, Thaise, wants to leave this place, which of course is connected to the country’s cellphone network. They know they are leaders in a new trend that appears to go against what is occurring in the region and the country, where 80% of the population lives in urban areas.
The couple believes that it has become increasingly necessary to encourage young people to stay in the countryside. After all, it is up to them – and their children – to produce the agricultural raw materials used in all industries.
Currently, three of every 10 Latin Americans depend on agriculture for survival. In countries such as Mexico and Peru, an estimated 20% of young people work in rural areas. In Brazil, more than a quarter of the rural population (eight million) is between the ages of 15 and 29.
The dream of millennials
The younger generation must also produce enough food to feed 9 billion mouths by 2050. It is a daunting challenge, which 23-year-old Josimar Sordi is happy to take on.
For nearly a year before graduating with a degree in zoology, he had the opportunity to manage a small meat processing plant established by his family and two other families. The plant produces 20 different products that are sold on the regional market.
"This plant was my project and that of a cousin who died of leukemia at 23, a month before he could achieve his dream,” he says, visibly moved. “We worked at a cold-storage plant and talked endlessly about what our business would be like,” he added.
His story evokes one of the characteristics found in the research on millennials – the generation that is now between the ages of 20 and 30 – and the labor market: competitiveness and the desire to advance quickly up the career ladder.
As Josimar proudly says, the countryside offers many possibilities for the young entrepreneur, as long adequate conditions exist, beginning with infrastructure: roads, electricity, internet and cellphone networks.
"If the process of creating a business is expensive and takes a long time, young people are less willing to establish businesses. We also have to facilitate the processes to certify products and services,” says World Bank economist Diego Arias, who heads the Santa Catarina Rural Program.
The program, a partnership between the World Bank and the state government, is exactly what has enabled entrepreneurs like Jilson and Josimar to make their lives in the countryside. Similar initiatives in Armenia, Cameroon, Malawi, Senegal and Sri Lanka have had encouraging results.
A toast, with juice
World Bank data demonstrate that investment in agriculture is not expensive considering the benefits to farmers: an increase in income associated with this activity is between two and four times more effective in reducing poverty than is growth in other sectors.
With some investment and considerable persistence, the parents of Estevao (23) and Leonardo Ferrari (21) have prospered with just three hectares of land. After experimenting unsuccessfully with several crops, the family finally attended a grape-growing program organized by the mayor’s office in 2001.
"For our father, it was the last chance to do something to work here, for which reason he quickly developed and maintained the vineyard,” says Estevao. The fruit has adapted so well that in just three years, the family was not only able to sell grape in bulk, but juice as well.
Since then, several programs (including SC Rural) have helped to increase the family production to 4,000 vines, to protect the grape from the cold and to send Leonardo to study enology in Cadiz, Spain. “Our dream is to produce wine,” the young man says.
In the meantime, the brothers manage a shop where they sell their products, including grape juice. “It is popular among the young and among the health-conscious. Our objective is to market to that public,” says Leonardo.
Like the Ferraris, who produce natural juice – not the beverages typical of urban parties – and who have swapped nightlife for an early professional life, there are many Brazilians who are discovering the pleasures of living and working far from the large cities. “Come and work with us,” jokes Estevao, referring to young people who are looking for job opportunities.