What do rural youth want? Jean Lomi

In honour of International Youth Day, held annually on 12 August, IFAD is highlighting 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: Jean Lomi
Age: 25
Location:  Andranomandevy, Boeny region, Madagascar

In this interview, Sandra Paulina Segin, a research intern for IFAD in Madagascar, spoke with Jean Lomi, a young fish breeder. Lomi’s family has a long history of working in agriculture and he was recently involved in the IFAD-funded Support Programme for the Rural Microenterprise Poles and Regional Economies (PROSPERER),  which focuses on increasing the incomes of poor rural people through small and micro rural enterprises.

Below is their conversation -
Q: Describe what you do to earn a living.

“I am involved in our family agricultural enterprise. I help my parents tend to rice, manioc, corn, sweet potato and poultry. In 2014, I started fish cultivation. This is my own work, for which my parents have granted me a parcel of land. So far, I have one fish pond.”

Q: How did you get into this type of work?

“Before PROSPERER, other development agencies were promoting fish cultivation, but they soon had to abandon the projects. In 2014, PROSPERER came to our village and engaged with those who previously cultivated fish, and put in place a program in which the experienced farmers encouraged us – the young people – to take up production. They taught us how to build ponds, and the programme gave us young fish to start production. I have been active in this sector ever since.”

Q: What are the challenges you face in a rural community?

“There is a lot of unemployment in my community. People either have land they do not tend to, or don’t have any land. That creates insecurity – there are a lot of issues of stolen fish, crops or farm animals. We also have little access to capital to jumpstart production. And there are issues with land scarcity – many people find it hard to get access to land so that they can cultivate. Oh, and soil fertility – here in coastal Boeny, the soil is not very fertile.”

Q: How do you overcome these challenges?

“When it comes to soil fertility, I use compost or manure. It requires extra work but always pays off. I treat the water for fishes with special fertilizers as well. When it comes to land scarcity – I think there are always ways if people are committed.”

Q: And did you receive any support when you started?

“Yes, well, we are united in a cooperative for young farmers, and when we all started fish cultivation, we helped build the ponds. So we would spend three days building each member’s pond – mine included. And, as mentioned, we got the first batch of fish from the programme.”

Q: What do you think are the biggest opportunities for young people?

“We are strong and can work very hard, and be very productive. We can also take more risks than the others, be more innovative, and try new things – like the fish ponds. We are keener to succeed, more invested in what we do.”

Q: What do you think governments and development agencies can do to support rural people in your area?

“I think financial support from the government would be a great idea, a fund to help us start more activities. We are really determined to succeed, but many of us are constrained by lack of funds – so despite having the power and will to tend to four or more ponds, we only have means and land to have one. We need guidance and help, as well as their encouragement.”

Q: Some people have a negative view of farming, agriculture, and rural areas? What would you say to that?

“A lot of young people move to the cities, but there are not that many jobs there – they may end up unemployed or with a bad job. In the village, we have always food, and we have our families and community; we can always rely on each other. Our life is simple, and we are fond of it.”

Q: What has been the greatest lesson you learned so far?

“In 2013 I cultivated rice, but I did not maintain the field. I didn’t even do the hoeing. I thought it would be ok. But in the end, my harvest was decimated. I learned that you have to put in the hard work to obtain good yields.”

Q: Who inspires you in life?

“I do not know his name, but we went on an exchange visit to a big fish cultivator. He had multiple ponds, most cemented – for different fish breeds, for pregnant fish – all divided into sections. It was a great, highly developed enterprise – I would like to one day to be as successful as that man.”

Q: What advice would you give to young people who want to do what you’re doing?

“Take risks, have patience, and take ownership of your work.”

Q: What is your dream?

“I would like to build a nice house, for my children to be educated and become a part of civil service. I would like to own a motorbike, maybe a car!”