CAPTION: Participants learning to build and use an ‘A-frame’ to identify land contours.
The second in a series of train-the-trainers workshops to build the capacity of youths working in organic agriculture – a farming system that relies on ecosystem management rather than external agricultural inputs – began in Port Vila, Vanuatu on 17 June 2013.
The workshop is the outcome of a partnership between the Pacific Organic and Ethical Trade Community (POETCom), the Land Resources Division of the Secretariat of the Pacific Community (SPC), the United Nations Development Programme, and the Farm Support Association (FSA) of Vanuatu.
The overall objective is to enhance livelihood opportunities for youth in organic agriculture by conducting training in sustainable organic production methods for trainers and agricultural extension providers, who provide ongoing mentoring and support to young farmers and link youth agricultural enterprises to existing organic certification and market chains.
The training programme in Vanuatu is a sub-regional workshop for Melanesia and follows on from a pilot workshop held earlier in March this year in Tonga.
The Pacific is facing an aging farming population and the SPC Pacific Youth in Agriculture Strategy bemoans the fact that agriculture is not being seen as a viable career option for young people; rather it is often viewed as the job for drop-outs.
However, organic agriculture is attracting a younger demographic, with the average age of organic farmers worldwide being five to eight years younger than conventional farmers. Over 90 per cent of the 25 participants at the workshop are under 35 years of age.
In his opening remarks at the workshop, UNDP representative Asif Chida pointed out the vital role of farmers in providing food security in the Pacific, and the precarious position that the region will be in, if youths do not take over farming from the aging farming population.
For this to happen, he said, there is a need to change the view of farmers, so that people who take up a career in agriculture are not viewed as: ‘just farm workers but as entrepreneurs and business people with an important role in our communities.’
The workshop covers the principles of organics, soil and plant health, and animal husbandry. It also examines the similarities and differences between traditional practices and organic farming. Another theme for discussion is the role of organic guarantee systems and organic certification in building consumer trust and in developing markets for organic products, both locally and internationally.
Throughout the week-long event, participants will engage in extensive practical demonstrations and field work to test firsthand the science behind growing food organically.
The trainers are Karen Mapusua, POETCom Coordinating Officer; Dr Shane Tutua, a soil scientist and farmer from the Solomon Islands; Peter Kaoh, Associate Director of FSA; and Nambo Moses from the Vanuatu Ministry of Agriculture.
Commenting on the vital role of agricultural extension services, Mapasua said that POETCom recognises the importance of both government and the private sector in providing technical advice and also in mentoring and supporting young farmers as they develop their farms and businesses.
The participants are from NGOs and organisations across Melanesia including: Zai Na Tina Organic Systems Demonstration Farm, Solomon Islands; Foundation for Rural Integrated Enterprises and Development (FRIEND); Nausori Young Farmers, Fiji; National Agricultural Research Institute (NARI), Papua New Guinea; Farm Support Association and Rural Training Centres, Vanuatu; and the Vanuatu Agricultural College, as well as heads of extension services from the ministries of agriculture in Kiribati and Tuvalu.
POETCom is the peak organics body for the Pacific region, and its secretariat is based at SPC with funding support from the EU-funded Increasing Agricultural Commodity Trade (IACT) Project.