A bright future for the Swiss Alps – Not at all?

by | May 30, 2023 | MOVING

Author: Fabienne Buchmann (ZHAW)

Translated into English: Carmen Forrer (ZHAW)

During two Youth Engagement Workshops, the ZHAW (Zurich University of Applied Sciences) MOVING team accompanied two classes of farmers in education from the agricultural school in Landquart, Switzerland. As part of the MOVING project, we talked to the trainees about their own future, the future of their mountain region and of the agricultural sector more in general. The young adults are worried that there will soon be no more place for them there.

No feeling at home even in their own village

Imagine growing up on a farm in a mountain village in Grisons in the middle of the Swiss Alps. You go to school there, have lots of friends around you and feel comfortable and rooted. The people in the village know you and everyone is happy when you decide to take over your parents’ farm and start an agricultural apprenticeship. You like the mountain region and can’t imagine living in the city.

But after school, many things change. Most of your friends and acquaintances go away – to the lowlands, to the city, abroad – to do an apprenticeship, to study or to work. In addition, more and more people you don’t know are moving into the village. Many of your friends can’t understand why you stay there. When you go out, your peers make fun of your choice of profession. What does that trigger in you?

This and similar are how the farmer trainees described their experiences. No longer feeling at home and familiar in their own village is a major issue for many of them.

Mountain villages in transition

Many of the young people leave their home villages or the  mountain region where they grew up due to a lack of training and job opportunities and seek for jobs in the cities. However, the rate of out-migration and in-migration in this part of the Swiss Alps remains balanced. This means that just as people are leaving the  region, new ones are arriving in equal numbers. Increasingly, these are not only returning natives but also immigrants who did not grow up in the mountain region. In fact, as a result of the pandemic and the increased trend toward remote working, more and more people have returned to work in their second homes, also in the mountain region of Grisons. Coupled with this, there has been a growing interest in renting or buying vacation, primary and temporary homes. The number of apartment sales in the canton of Grisons has risen sharply with the pandemic and remains at a higher level than before. The increased demand also leads to an increase in prices in the real estate sector.

Situation for young people remains unchanged

So, more people with remote jobs are moving in. These people are in a completely different phase of life than the young farmer trainees. The situation for young people hardly changes for now – there is neither an upswing in the labour market in the region, nor are there more opportunities for exchange for teenagers and young adults. Many have the feeling that village life is becoming more and more impersonal and alienated, despite more residents. In addition, many young people or locals simply cannot afford to stay or return due to the great rush    on the housing market and building land and the associated price increases because residents of the lowlands can often pay higher rents or pay more for building land. This leads to resentment and worries about the future.

The country needs young people

The future of the mountain region and agriculture depends on young people who are passionate about their work and their region, who want to live a good life there and who will continue to shape it. To improve the situation, the young trainees see the responsibilities of politics and society as important factors. A big lever is certainly the communication between the different societal groups to draw attention to the existing challenges, to find solutions, and to ensure that the youth with their fears and concerns feel perceived and heard.