Youth and agriculture: New peasants moving back to rural areas

‘New peasants’ – youth deciding to become farmers and choosing agroecological production methods – is a crucial response to the trend of rural outmigration. Sidney Ortun Flament and Bruno Macias see knowledge sharing and exchange as a means to support this movement.

Farming Matters | 31.2 | June 2015

Sidney Ortun Flament and Bruno Macias

In the eyes of many, farming is not considered a desirable career. However, a growing number of urban youth see things differently. After a ‘first life’ outside agriculture, and often with a university degree, they have decided to become farmers. We call them new peasants. And many of these young people choose agroecology as an alternative way to enter the food system, promoting both social and environmental sustainability. This is a new urban–rural link, and a growing counter force to the dominant trend of rural outmigration.

In interviews, new peasants in France told us they find fulfillment in farming. But they also emphasised that farming is a risky business, and it takes several years to build a secure livelihood from it. New peasants have little prior agricultural knowledge, and certainly no ‘family land’ to inherit. They often have to learn how to farm without the support of their rural neighbours who consider them ‘outsiders’. Lack of land due to high prices and land grabbing, combined with difficulties in entering markets, make it very difficult to establish a new farm. Financial tools and credit are often unsuited to the small scale, multifunctional types of farms they want to develop. And where appropriate programmes do exist, many new peasants said that they had never heard of them.

Farmers remain a category of people with a negative social image. But this is a huge paradox as they master many skills – they connect with rural and urban people alike, find market opportunities, manage a complicated business, and, importantly, they excel in physically challenging agricultural techniques. And not being educated in family farming traditions, new peasants often turn out to be very innovative. When they work alongside existing farmers, they become a driving force for change based on sustainable, agroecological production.

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