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A strategy for 'youth in agriculture' in the Pacific region

The Pacific is trying to encourage young people back into agriculture (© Lara McKinley/OxfamAUS)
The Pacific is trying to encourage young people back into agriculture
© Lara McKinley/OxfamAUS

Limited employment options and high unemployment rates among young people are not unique to the Pacific region, but they are exacerbated by the realities of island living. Rural-urban migration is a similar story, leaving behind ageing farmers and declining traditional agricultural systems. And a worrying accompanying trend for the islands is an increased dependence on imported foods, with both economic and health implications - rates of 'lifestyle' diseases such as diabetes and obesity are soaring.

Encouraging young people back into agriculture would be a neat way to address all of these issues, and this was the motivation behind the development of a regional strategy which was launched in October 2010. The strategy targets stakeholders across the board - governments, non-government organisations, the private sector, formal and informal education providers, communities and families - with actions and initiatives to increase youth participation in agriculture.

Finding out what young people think

The strategy was developed by the Pacific Agriculture and Forestry Policy Network (PAFPNet), which is coordinated by the Secretariat of the Pacific Community (SPC). The strategy team asked young people in three Pacific island countries - Fiji, Tonga and Kiribati - what would support and encourage them to choose farming as an occupation. The strategy is built around their answers, with additional input from an online consultation.

Agriculture can be a profitable career (© SPC)
Agriculture can be a profitable career

Adequate support from families and communities, and appropriate recognition of the contribution young people make, were among the most common responses. The community is central to traditional Pacific island life, and much of the land in many of the countries is communally owned, so support at the community level is clearly critical. Recommendations include giving young people a voice in community decision making, and ensuring they share in any profits from their farming.

"Young people contribute a lot to agriculture at the family and community level," says Vikash Kumar, manager of the Mainstreaming of Rural Development Innovations Programme in the Pacific (MORDI), which works with youth groups. "But they often feel frustrated because they are not being listened to, for example by the elders in their communities." Strengthening and empowering youth groups is one way to give young people a voice in their community.

Many of the respondents also talked about the importance of messages given to young people at school, which often instil negative images of farming from an early age. The strategy suggests a 're-education' of teachers from primary school up, so that they learn the value of the agriculture sector and promote it as a positive choice for students, rather than a fall-back option. This also emphasises the need for different government agencies and other groups to work together to bring about the desired changes - in this case departments of agriculture and education, along with education providers.

Encouraging enterprise

But perhaps the best way to attract young people into agriculture is to facilitate and promote enterprise and entrepreneurship. "Young people have a lot of initiative that should be nurtured" says Kumar. "With the right support and training, they can turn good ideas into viable businesses." Such support and training might include scholarships in agriculture or business development skills, and training in financial management, including how to access credit.

Agriculture students at the University of the South Pacific are training to be the Pacific's next generation of farmers (© Darryl Saville)
Agriculture students at the University of the South Pacific are training to be the Pacific's next generation of farmers
© Darryl Saville

Agriculture as a profitable business rather than purely for family and community subsistence is an indicator of the different views and aspirations of the new generation of farmers. While these may challenge more traditional ways of working, embracing them is key to revitalising agriculture in the Pacific. The challenge will be to keep the best of traditional systems and traditional knowledge, but move them into the 21st century, with all the opportunities that brings.

One small success in this direction - and a spin-off from the consultations held on the draft strategy - is the setting up of a Facebook group, the Pacific Youth in Agriculture Network. So far nearly 500 people have joined, and are using the facility to exchange news and views on current issues, events and opportunities in the region, and share photographs.

The next step for the strategy is to get it endorsed by leaders across the region and, hopefully, incorporated into the Pacific Plan, the region's overarching policy document. Then the different countries can get down to adapting the recommendations within their own contexts, and develop the potential and creativity of their young people to reshape Pacific agriculture for the future.

Written by: Anne Moorhead

Date published: March 2011


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