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Migration: the undesirable option for young people with broken dreams?

Youth Study in Morocco with YPARD and HAFL
Focus Group Discussion in Tiswite village: young ladies depicting the village of their dreams. Photo by study team (YPARD and HAFL).

“I want to stay in my village. I want to be happy and live in the same place as my family. I like to help my family in farming, but I want to have more interesting opportunities for learning and training so that I can make our farm more successful. If I achieve that, than life will be good. This will make me feel happy and content, and I will not fall into drugs or the streets in town, or take a dangerous trip through the sea to migrate in another country abroad.”

This is just one among 100 young voices, male and female farmers living in 15 rural dryland villages around Midelt, a province in the north of Morocco characterized by steep mountain slopes and numerous valleys. They were asked to share their views, challenges and aspirations in life as part of a pilot study launched last year by the CGIAR Research Program on Dryland Systems in collaboration with the Young Professionals for Agricultural Development (YPARD) and the Bern University of Applied Sciences, School of Agricultural, Forest and Food Sciences (HAFL).

First of its kind, the ongoing study examines the perspectives of young people and sheds light on the complex web of socio-economic factors that affects their future fundamental choice: to endure and shape a new future at home or migrate in search of better opportunities?

Migration is a critical issue raised by young people living in drylands

Over the past year, public attention beyond Europe has been gripped by the escalating flow of migrants crossing the Mediterranean. Much attention has been devoted to the resulting political crisis as European leaders struggled to mobilize a coherent response.

But in order to mount a coherent response, one must first focus on understanding the critical factors behind the growing displacement crisis that touches on nearly every region of the world.  Our preliminary results provide a glimpse of the profound challenges and broken dreams of young people in rural drylands of the developing world.

We seek to understand these issues from their own perspective so that policy makers and development practitioners design and implement appropriate interventions that respond to young people’s needs.

Making use of creative and participatory research approaches, the researchers held focus group discussions, asking the young farmers to envision and draw “the village of their dreams” where they could enjoy a more comfortable life along with their families, and better farming conditions. Here is what they described for us:

The village of my dreams has:

  • Schools: I wish to have a school near my house and teachers that live nearby, so we can go also when it’s very cold and snowing, and never miss class. I want receive a good education and attend the College, maybe even taking a bus.
  • Employment:I would like to get a seasonal job in my village as a mechanic, welder or carpenter so I can make money to help my family when no work in the field is needed.
  • A hospital:The empty hospital in the village will have all it needs, like doctors anytime, beds and medicines available for everyone. There will be an ambulance to carry pregnant women, instead of having them transported to far away hospitals on the back of a mule.
  • Sport fields:We will form a football team and play in a football pitch constructed just for us. This would be so fun and exciting and keep us busy and away from drugs and other bad habits. The football will no longer be just something to watch on TV, but an activity to practice in a real field!
  • Access to water: “We will have access to good water in every house, so that our mums and sisters will not have to walk everyday for miles to collect it. We will have proper places to shower, and why not showers in every home.”
  • Proper Roads:With good roads and trucks, or even cars, we could explore other places and not be stuck in the village during winter.
  • Streetlights:There will be lights on the streets and in the village so it will not be dangerous to leave our houses in the dark hours.
  • Water for agriculture:The dam will be completed and there will be wells close by so that the water will be easily brought to our village. There will also be reservoirs to collect the rain and use it in the fields.
  • Sustainable natural resource management:Most of the land surrounding the village has been degraded and is unhealthy. Once we will have the water, all that zone will be irrigated and become fertile.
  • Common lands:The fields will be shared among all the families and even the landless will receive their part from the new, irrigated areas.
  • Phytosanitary products:Hail or other freak weather will no longer destroy the food we produce in our farms because will be enough protective nets and products even for the poorest farmers.

One could argue this is hardly the stuff of dreams, but compare the list of these young people’s wishes to the reality of the dawwār/douars (villages), where their most basic needs remain unfulfilled. During their field research visits and interviews, our researchers noted a litany of challenges that make it difficult for these young people to realized their dreams.

  • Lack of proper education. Teachers often don’t keep class, due to the deteriorate state of the roads and the hard travel conditions, while during winter they never show up.
  • Lack of occupational perspectives. The farmers endure scarcity of tools and the youth is so forth compelled to leave the villages to provide their relatives of goods or to develop professionally.
  • Lack of access to health care. Medical structures are almost completely absent in the area. Naturally, the most at stake are the women and their children.
  • Inadequate shelters. The houses are traditionally built in clay and the few concrete buildings that exists are severely deteriorated. The population has no resources to repair the structures and no proper land to build on.
  • Lack of access to clean water. The population mostly relies on wells and pumps, usually far from their homes, and mostly obtains scarce, polluted water.
  • Isolation. The villages have unsealed dirt roads only without any electricity. The harsh landscape and the flooding of valleys make distances hard to cover, and the villagers are mostly trapped home by snow during winter.
  • Degraded environment and poor natural resources management. The dam that should provide the main water supply is still incomplete, compelling the farmers to work in narrow valleys near water streams. Also, the heavy deforestation of the landscape plays a dramatic role in the flooding issue, easing the collapsing of hills and mountain slopes.
  • Social inequality. The few cultivable spaces available are insufficient for everybody and the landless have little or no way to get an income. The prohibitive cost of farming and protective tools makes the poorest suffer the most during the tough seasons.

Many of the young farmers interviewed are landless, illiterate, and all of them are cut out of education and job opportunities, and a real chance to build a good and sustainable livelihood at home. The conditions for young women are even more unfavorable, as their choices and desires are strongly influenced or dictated by their fathers or husbands. Their level of education is far lower than that of their male peers.

The main issue concerning the interviewed youths is definitely migration. Leaving their homes in favor of urban areas of Morocco, or even abroad, is an unpleasant choice they have to make due to lack of opportunities and dire conditions at home. In view of such circumstances, the chance at a better livelihood elsewhere overrides whatever risk these young people are prepared to make into the unknown.

Our scientists are currently analyzing the research data and the final study and results will be released in June 2016! The evidence we produce will shape policy recommendations on agricultural programs and interventions for creating job, education, and livelihood opportunities in the village of young people’s dreams.


This story appeared first as a blog in the YPARD website. The Youth and Agriculture in the Drylands – Realities, Aspirations and Challenges of Rural Youth Living in Agricultural Dryland Areas; Preliminary Report of a Field Study Conducted in the Province of Midelt, Morocco is authored by Alessandra Giuliani, Sebastian Mengel and Courtney Paisley and revised by Oliver Oliveros, Mariana Wongtschowski and Ingrid Flink. The final results and publication are expected to come out in June 2016.

About the author

Valerio Graziano is the Online Science Communications Intern with the CGIAR Research Program on Dryland Systems.