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Alana Tukuniu

Alana Tukuniu is a part-time farmer in the Pacific (© Alana Tukuniu)
Alana Tukuniu is a part-time farmer in the Pacific
© Alana Tukuniu

Agriculture: more than an occupation

Alana Tukuniu is a part-time farmer in the small Pacific island state of Niue. The perspective below is an edited version of her essay which won first prize in a competition organised by the Pacific Agricultural and Forestry Policy Network (PAFPNet). Alana offers her views and advice to young people wanting to start an agricultural enterprise in the Pacific region.

Agriculture is not an occupation that comes with a desk, PC and a comfortable chair. No, agriculture is so much better than this. It comes with a connection - to our ancestors, to the earth, and most importantly and too often overlooked, to the very core of human survival - eating. Humans can survive without a laptop, but we cannot survive without food.

What is my advice to a young person wanting to start up their own agricultural enterprise? Do not think of farming only as a money earner. Agriculture is much more than this, and it's this understanding that will help young farmers through the tough times. We now live in a cash economy, and we need income, but as a farmer you are contributing so much more. Agriculture is instrumental in keeping our culture alive, in addressing climate change issues, health issues and in preserving the environment.

My day always starts with feeding my chickens, and ends with a trip to my plantation. There, I am often faced with depleted crops, victims of the hungry mouths of caterpillars and snails, or struggling due to a nutrient deficiency, yet still I continue to grow crops. I have experienced the monetary rewards that come with a successful harvest, and I have experienced the frustrations of a failed crop. This is why my advice is to not look at farming for its financial returns alone, but to also understand the importance of agriculture to culture, environment and health.

Our culture is expressed through many things, including our traditional foods. They are at the heart of our cultural festivities, such as haircutting ceremonies or the opening of the yam season. I cannot imagine boxes of KFC hanging on the kafika [a tree] as gifts to those who have supported us, or McDonald burgers replacing the puaka [pig] as the centrepiece on the table. Our crops are the staples in our umu [underground oven]; it is unthinkable that they could be replaced by New Zealand-grown potatoes. Food is a cultural link, and growing it locally supports our culture as well as our environment. It's these thoughts which keep me growing.

As young people, we are becoming more aware of the effects of climate change. This is our future, and we need to protect it. When we grow food for our communities we are addressing climate change, through the reduction in imports amongst other things. We are also addressing health issues, because eating local food is much better for us than eating imported processed food. It's these thoughts which keep me growing.

Remember - support is available. The agricultural ministries are there to support farmers - so let your local ministry know that you want to be involved in farming programmes that they run. At the very least they may be able to help with an input starter kit that enables you to start a small enterprise. Talk to your youth council members so that they can lobby for youth involvement in agriculture/business venture programmes at higher levels of dialogue.

We can also look to our own community for support, and to our history. Our forefathers did not need cash to produce food. Seeds were shared among families, and this practice is continued today. Most people in our communities raise pigs, and this is a free source of fertiliser. To begin a farming venture, you only need to ask for the little things that will enable you to begin your venture. In our communities there is always someone willing to help you. Agriculture is a pathway to reclaim and conserve our heritage - sometimes we need to look to the past so that we can sustainably move forward. It's these thoughts which keep me growing.

The most effective support will always be ourselves, as individuals and together as a community. Because in the end it is our future, and our culture which we need to preserve. The future is not in ten years, it is tomorrow, when we wake up and look in our cupboards and ask ourselves what are we going to eat today - instant noodles or puaka and taro? It's these thoughts that keep me growing.

Being a farmer is like being a famous musician - you work hard, but no one knows how hard you truly worked except yourself. Making the decision to engage in agriculture is an affirmative decision for our culture, our environment and ourselves.

Edited by Anne Moorhead

Date published: September 2011


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Well done Alana Tukuniu. I am writing from Australia where ... (posted by: lloyd Crothers)


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