IFAD holds its 1st Meeting on Youth Entrepreneurship and Rural Micro-enterprising in Cartagena, Colombia

Marking the end of the United Nations International Year of Youth, the Colombian City of Cartagena is hosting the 1st Meeting on Youth Entrepreneurship and Rural Micro-enterprising from 15-19 November. Over 80 participants, including some 35 young rural entrepreneurs contributed actively to the discussion during the first day of this especial event, which was organized by IFAD; the Opportunities Rurales Programme of the Colombian Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development (MADR); and the Fundación Activos Culturales Afro-Latinos (ACUA). The meeting was opened by Mohamed Beavogui, Director of the West and Central Africa Division and Roberto Haudry, IFAD’s Country Program Manager for Colombia. It was also addressed by Andres Silva Mora, Programme Director of Oportunidades Rurales and MADR Representative to IFAD and by Manuel Perez, a community leader and Member of the Executive Committee of ACUA.

In his intervention, Beavogui underlined the importance of this event as an important step towards a better understanding of the bottlenecks and challanges facing the rural young people in developing countries today. He also emphasized the role that the young can play in creating the right institutional and policy environment upon which much of their future prospects of better living conditions depend. On his part, Haudry said the meeting was meant to be a bridge in a continuing exchange between Latin America, Africa and other regions. He said: “in Latin America we need Africa. We do not want a triangular world, in which for an African to speak to a Latin American would need to pass through Washington or Rome or any third party.” Addressing the young participants, Haudry added: “we want you to meet and to know each other, to exchange and together construct a better society than the one my generation has.”

The instruments through which the MADR was able to support concretely Colombia’s micro-enterprising development, particularly the Oportunidades Rurales programme, were at the centre of a presentation by its Director, Silva Mora. He explained how the programme, which was established with the help of IFAD in 1997, then represented a new approach in the process of carrying out rural development - from teaching people to hearing people.
He said since its establishment with the help of IFAD in 1997, the Ministry has supported over 1000 projects focusing on the development of rural business opportunities through investments worth more than US$25 million. Silva Mora also explained how such efforts, involving thousands of business experts, development practitioners and rural entrepreneurs, including young people, have succeeded in achieving their objectives. He emphasized the importance of knowledge transfer and training in building the capacities of the rural youth to chart a better future for themselves and their families.
Manuel Perez emphasised the importance of the cultural aspects in improving the quality of people’s lives, including those of the young. He highlighted the activates undertaken by ACUA in support of development initiatives that focus on helping young Afro Americans in acquiring the knowledge and skills they need to unleash their creativity in developing successful income-generation activities extending from agriculture to culture.

The following interventions started with audiovisual introductions, mainly thematic videos, which set the stage for analytical PowerPoint presentations and subsequent discussions and exchanges of ideas and information. Dayana Rivera of the Small Coffee Growers Association in Cauca, Colombia, spoke of the importance of fair trade for coffee growers, especially the young ones, and the importance that her association attaches to its autonomy and ability to defend the rights of its members. In doing so, the association also helps its members diversify their crops and take advantage of market opportunities both individually and collectively. She said the association is also working closely with the Opportunities Rurales programme on various activities, including investment support, facilitation and skills building.
The Cacao Producers Association of Atacames and Rio Verde (APROCA) of the Esmeraldas region of Ecuador was represented by Lurdes Estefania Bone, who illustrated the work of her association since its establishment in 2004 by a group of independent private producers of Cacao. The association was established to help market its members’ cacoo products, which represent the main income of the province. It was also meant to address the challenge of restoring live to cacao plantations, which were losing labour density due to emigration of young people. Renovation was the moto of the association to help achieve this objective and salvage the knowledge that was accumulated by generations of farmers cacao production and processing. APROCA runs a youth centre, where 20-30 young people under the age of 21 receive education with sciences varying from Mathematics to natural sciences, but also vocational training in treatment and processing of cacao into chocolate products from drying to packaging. According to Bone, APROCA works in association with non-profit organizations, including foundations, NGOs and international organizations to promote its objectives. She added that such cooperation has enabled the local young people to repopulate the cacao plantations, and processing facilities while improving the marketing conditions and incomes. It also helps each producer obtain certification of their organic products.

The small Colombian Association of Ramiquiri Artisans (ARTERMAMI), represented by Alexandra Bohorquez, and Cooperativa Multiactiva de Mujeres de Guapi (COOPMUJERES) were instrumental in offering their members some micro-finance opportunities thanks to their ability to enlist the support of the Rural Opportunities programme. They also play a critical role in creating a greater number of income generating opportunities for its members with a greater focus on gender issues and protection of women headed households. The Association of Young Afro-American Women and Young people of the Caribbean Sea (AFROCARIBE) and the Association of Shellfishers of Nariño (ASCONAR) have also made interesting presentations on the way their young members have been able to take advantage of micro credit opportunities to initiate various small businesses and income generation activities and in the Caribbean. Since these associations are mostly made up of young rural people and are equipped with ideas and good, but will have limited resources and support, the association of Young Entrepreneurs (ASOJE) and the Biodiversity Corporation of Monitoreo (MASHIRAMO) have also presented a large number of their experiences, the success stories of their members as well as lessons learned and frustrating shortfalls on public support.

The presentations and subsequent discussion of associations, mostly Colombian micro entrepreneurs, were followed by more analytical presentations of the individual experiences and success stories. Some 12 young rural entrepreneurs from 10 other countries, namely, Bosnia, Brazil, Ecuador, El Salvador, Ghana, Madagascar, Nicaragua, Peru, Senegal, and Syria, are participating in the event.

Daniela Dos Santos from Brazil told the story of developing a successful micro-enterprise specialized in the production of religious artwork. She had inherited from her mother, who was part of a cooperative of artisanal women, the ideas of producing religious clothing and artisanal artwork objects. As an example, she showed images of epical garments for religious proceedings were produced, indicating that she was trying to be economically independent. She said she wanted to be the owner of her own company and her destiny, but she wanted also to be able to help the community to which she belongs. She listed a number of difficulties that she was initially facing to develop her activity into a profitable business; but eventually she was able to overcome these difficulties thanks to a loan from an IFAD-supported project.

From Madagascar, the 24 year old Mirado Ratoejanahary told her story as a beneficiary of and IFAD-supported Rural Youth micro-enterprise programme. Her story started in 2004 when she was an employee of her aunt working on the production of the so called “Raban”, which is based on material made of vegetal fibre. The Raban is mainly used as raw material to weave baskets. However, she wanted to have her own company, so she used her savings from three years of service and living in a small hut to initiate a business of her own similar to that of her aunt. She bought the needed raw materials all on her own and started her own production. However, she was facing difficulties due to the lack of instruments and advanced skills, which she was eventually able to acquire thanks to a loan and training from the IFAD-supported project and other elements.

Anita Derlek from Bosnia is engaged in a small business of organic food that she and her mother Emira had started back in 2000 when she was the age of 18. The decision to launch the farm was made during the years of war in Bosnia that she spent with her family in Germany as war refugees. Impressed with the way organic production has been established in Germany, Anita and Emira decided to follow suite upon their return to Bosnia. They started with very limited funds. It took her 5 years to turn her conventional farm into the organic one. Today, all six members of her nuclear family, including Anita, are involved in the production on the farm. They grow a variety of vegetables and cereals and collect medicinal herbs. During the intensive works, the family Vuković rent the agricultural machinery. In order to encircle the organic producing on the farm, the family purchased cows by taking a first micro-loan from the Prizma micro-credit organization. The second loan that they took was in order to purchase land to launch raspberry production. The total credit amount that Anita and Emira took from IFAD funds is 10,000 KM approved in the year of 2009. They now sell their products directly to their customary buyers and have been able to pay back their loan to IFAD on regular basis. They were the first in the region to launch the idea of organic farming, which is proving to be one of the most profitable rural business activities.

Mosaic art worker, Abdulla Al Dani, 19, from Syria also had an interesting story to tell. He partnered with his father at an early age in a low paid business of bicycle repairs, which they started in 2002. Their earnings were hardly enough to feed the family. But, when the opportunity occurred through an IFAD-supported projects in 2006, Abdulla took a loan of 50,000 Syrian Pounds (about US$1150) from his village “Sanduq” fund in the northern province of Idleb. Given the at bicycle repairs generated too little income, Abdulla and his father decided to decided to change their profession and start a manufacturing mosaic tableau as a lot of people in their region. The loan served mainly to help them buy the main materials for this work such natural stones, nylon, net, sticking material, and a cutter. Their new business flourished very quickly as they acquired fine production skills that they used to train other villagers. Today 50 other families in the village depend on them to urn a living.

Out of programme, Modou Faye, from Senegal, presented his story of as successful family agribusiness in the village of Qadam in the north east of the country. His little enterprise combines farming with processing of agricultural produce. In addition, it also depends partially on livestock keeping. The activity of this eight member family is organized on the basis of a weekly family meeting during which decisions are taken collectively, including the decision to seek and obtain support from an IFAD-supported project covering his village. The main strength of the family was the plentiful seasonal production of crops like wheat, beans, millet and others that can be processed and kept to meet the family consumption needs during hard times. Faye underlined the importance of experience he accumulated in managing a family business that guarantees the timely commercialization of the family’s raw or processed produce and ensuring both income flows and relative food security.

The interventions of the various young entrepreneurs where all followed by detailed discussions of the on the difficulties that the rural micro enterprising continues to face. These have also covered a wide range of desired types of interventions to address such issue, including the introduction, where appropriate, of policy reforms and more coherent approaches towards creating favourable environments for youth entrepreneurship development.

The first day of this workshop then ended by some concluding remarks of Beavogui, in which he underlined the importance of helping Africa’s young small farmers meet the responsibility and the challenge to feed a world of more than nine billion people over the next few decades.