[11 March, Tonga] A Train the Trainers workshop to build the capacity of youth in organic agriculture began in Tonga today. Around 30 participants, 15 of whom are women, are attending the workshop. Apart from Youth representatives, there are also participants from Ministry of Agriculture, Tonga National Youth Congress, Women in Business in Samoa, Niue Organisation Farmers Association, Titikaveka Producers Cooperative, Department of Agriculture in American Samoa. A first for the Polynesian countries – Cook Islands, Niue, Samoa and Tonga – similar workshops will be conducted for Melanesian and Micronesian countries.
Karen Mapusua, the Coordinator for the Pacific Organic and Ethical Trade Community (POETCOM), based in the Secretariat of the Pacific Community, “The Pacific like many other parts of the world is facing an aging farming population. Agriculture is not being seen as a viable career option and is often viewed as the job for ‘drop outs’. The Pacific Youth and Agriculture Strategy noted that when surveyed students and youth who lived in urban areas were more inclined to use words like ‘dirty job’, ‘embarrassment’, ‘shame’, in their answers when asked to share their views of why young people did not engage in agriculture. The views of those living in rural areas on why young people were not taking up agricultural activities indicated lack of access, support and enabling environment. At the same time unemployment and underemployment, urban drift and associated social issues and lack of livelihoods opportunities are key issues for Pacific youth”.
Drew Havea, President of the Tonga National Youth Congress (TNYC) in his welcome address said one of the key roles of his organisation was to promote organic farming in Tonga.
“Tonga has established an organic certification programme and is developing exports of virgin coconut oil, vanilla and coffee but lacks specific capacity in organic production methods. We work with a network of youth groups across Tonga and are in an excellent position to provide training and ongoing mentoring support to young farmers who wish to convert to organic and engaging in organic trade once they themselves have received appropriate training. TNYC is the Tongan National focal point for POETCOM and continue to receive support from POETCOM for their organic initiatives.
Anthony Brown the chairperson of POETCOM said, “Organic agriculture is alternative agriculture for better returns for sustaining livelihoods of Pacific farming. It’s about high density nutrition value of plants and crops to provide all the right energy for human and livestock health”. The POETCOM network provides a vehicle for sharing of lessons learned from this project and for expanding impact through broader and multi country implementation of the training materials developed.
The objectives of the project are to enhance livelihood opportunities for youth in organic agriculture, training of trainers for extension providers in sustainable organic production methods, provide ongoing mentoring and support to young farmers to update knowledge and skills, capacity building in organic production for youth farmers and linking youth agricultural enterprises into existing organic certification and market chains.
While addressing the participants Dr. Asif Chida, Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) and Private Sector Specialist said, “Our future is our youth and if youth are not involved in organic farming we will face huge food security issues. The Pacific region is well placed to produce niche organic fruits and vegetables which will not only address youth unemployment but can also be potential foreign exchange earner as well as increase incomes for individuals and communities. This sub-regional workshop is expected to encourage youth from rural and outer island communities in the Polynesian countries to produce healthy food and live healthy which will undoubtedly address key MDGs in the sub-region. Around the world organic food market of nearly $2 billion is growing at a significant rate and the Pacific has the potential to tap into this niche market instead of the region depending on imported food which is one of the key contributing factors for Non-Communicable Diseases.”
The United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) Pacific Centre provided financial and technical assistance for the organic farming programme in collaboration with Secretariat of the Pacific Community (SPC).