What do rural youth want? Carlos Melendez

In honour of International Youth Day, held annually on 12 August, IFAD is featuring seven rural youth from around the world to discuss the challenges and opportunities they face, and to discover what they need in order to improve their lives and feed the world.

Name: Carlos Melendez
Age: 28
Location:  Caserio El Espejo, Urdaneta municipality, Venezuela

In this interview, Paulina Schwaner, an IFAD consultant and former Chilean journalist, speaks with Carlos Meléndez, 28, a dairy and vegetable farmer from Venezuela.

Meléndez began raising his own animals and growing vegetables around the age of 16. After several failed attempts, he finally managed to hit his stride. Meléndez has now become a successful dairy and vegetable producer in his rural community in north-east Venezuela.

Below is their conversation -

Q: Carlos, you began working in agriculture when you were very young. You are now a successful rural entrepreneur and a community leader. How would you describe your journey?

“In life, you lose some and you win some. During the rough patches, it is normal to try to cling onto the good memories and successes to keep going in order to attain your goal. In my experience, it was not easy at the beginning because I could not count on anyone's help; I only had my own resources and my goal clear in my mind, but no financial support. Up to now, I feel that I have not yet achieved all my ambitions, therefore, I have to keep working towards that. That is why I can tell everyone: you need to have an objective and work hard to attain it.”

Q: You had a vision, you dug and you found water. How important is water for your community? How do you address the challenges of water scarcity?

“Water and soil are two essential elements for life, without them one cannot work to produce food.  In my village in Venezuela, as well as in the rest of the world, we are going through a difficult moment as the water is getting more and more scarce and it is harder to find. Five years ago, I dug a bore well with my own hands.

Unfortunately, I could not find any water near my land, so I had to move two kilometers away to get water. Finally, thanks to electric engines, I managed to get some water out of the ground and I could start producing. During the year, we collect water in a dam to irrigate the crops. But due to the alarming water scarcity and pests we are limited to growing fewer plants. There have been tough years and we have also been hit by the change in climate.”

Q: How did you face the issues that were challenging your work? What kind of support did you receive?

“My family really helped a lot when I had challenges in my work and I must admit that the past few years have been quite hard, but I am doing all I can to make things better. My wife played a pivotal role in my success as she comes from a family of farmers and she understands when things get difficult in the field, therefore she was the one who has helped me the most. The truth is that when I fell in love with her, I also fell in love with crops and the rural life. I am saying this from the bottom of my heart.”

Q: As a young entrepreneur and community leader, what do you think is the biggest potential that young people possess? What kind of advice would you give to rural youth?

“Sometimes in life, we need to overcome hurdles before we can achieve our goals. We, as young people, go through several life experiences that make us stronger and our biggest potential lies in having time, strength and a long path before us. My advice to young people who want to start working in rural areas is to work with commitment and with love for what they are doing because this way you will surely achieve positive results.”

Q: How, in your opinion, could governments and development agencies alike support rural youth?

“Governments should create more institutions that take into account the needs of young entrepreneurs. For example, here in Venezuela, the IFAD-supported Sustainable Rural Development Project for Food Security in the Semiarid Zones of Lara and Falcon States (PROSALAFA III) project has helped me a lot through capacity building and workshops on animal rearing.

More institutions should take into account the plight of rural youth, because there is a general lack of attention to young people. However, we are slowly starting to see young people getting involved in institutions and taking a leadership role. For example, I am currently the spokesperson of my area’s food committee within a broader network called Mercal. The network helps to connect raw materials and food rations with 220 families from the municipality and my community. I have been lucky that I have been entrusted with this position.”

Q: Your experience in agriculture has been quite positive, however, some young people have a negative outlook on agriculture. How could we make agriculture and rural life more attractive for those youth?

“I come from a family that has had nothing to do with agriculture, however, I have been fascinated with rural life. You need incentives to engage youth in agriculture. This is the reason why I have always been convinced that schools should provide classes on agriculture from the very first grade to high school graduation and it should be based on the understanding that without agricultural production there is no food. These classes should also stress the importance that agriculture holds for our lives. This is what should be taught to the generations to come.”

Q: What are the challenges that you see yourself facing in the future, both as an individual and as part of a community?

“My main challenge is becoming a successful agricultural and goat farmer, empowering my area, my local municipality and my country too. I would like to generate employment in my community and become a role model for young people. A very specific need we have in my community is for a satellite connection so that we can be connected with the rest of the world. Right now, we need to travel for about one hour from our village to get phone network, and clearly, we don't have an Internet connection either. If we had a communication network our life would be much better and we could work more easily.”