[Port Vila, Vanuatu – 24 June] The second in a series of workshops to build the skills of youth in organic agriculture concluded in Port Vila last week.
Organic agriculture is a farming system that relies on working closely with the ecosystem without reliance on chemicals to increase yields or manage weeds and pests. Organic agriculture is also one of the areas attracting young farmers worldwide. Against the backdrop of an aging farming population in the Pacific, organic agriculture has been identified as a means to get more young Pacific Islanders involved in farming.
The Melanesian sub regional workshop in Vanuatu follows on from a pilot workshop held earlier in March this year in Tonga.It was attended by 25 youth farmers, including 5 women. The workshop enabled the participants to examine the similarities and difference between traditional practices and organic farming. A key component of the workshop was 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 engaged in extensive practical demonstrations and field work and tested firsthand the science behind growing food organically.
Andrew Waileilakeba, a farmer from Navuso village in Fiji said he learnt a lot from the workshop.
“I am not an organic farmer but the knowledge I gained at the workshop will immensely help me to move into organic farming in phases. What I liked most about this workshop was that was only 30% lecture but 70% was practical hands on experience in farms which are our open field labs,” he said.
“Based on the field visits I undertook as part of this workshop and the information I received, I feel that Vanuatu has lots of experience in organic farming and can transfer knowledge and technology to other Pacific Island Countries.”
Weileilakeba is a member of Agronet Fiji, a loosely formed small scale farmers association of more than 100 members, and he has confirmed that he will engage in helping young farmers to adopt organic practices particularly in compost making and grow organic vegetables and fruits.
Ms Takena Redfern, an Agriculture Extension Officer and trainer with the Kiribati Ministry of Environment, Lands and Agriculture Development was also a participant at the workshop.
Having gained knowledge from this workshop she intends to create awareness in Kiribati on organic farming particularly among young people and encourage them to grow organic fruits and vegetables which have a high income potential.
“Because of limited land area in Kiribati, the focus of my outreach will be in the outer islands and in South Tarawa. I feel that niche organic farming can contribute towards Kiribati’s export earnings,” said Ms Redfern.
She added however, that she was concerned by the cost of organic certification but believed that with the help of one of the workshop organisers, POET Com, she could get support for certification.
The workshop is the outcome of a partnership between the Pacific Organic and Ethical Trade Community (POETCom), Land Resources Division of the Secretariat of the Pacific Community (SPC), the United Nations Development Programme’s Pacific Centre, and Farm Support Association (FSA) of Vanuatu. The overall objective of this project is to enhance livelihood opportunities for youth in organic agriculture.
UNDP Private Sector Advisor Dr. Asif Chida, said, “Farmers play a key role in providing food security in the Pacific. If youths do not take up farming from the aging farming population, the region will face a precarious position in the future.”
“We need to change the view that a career in agriculture is not seen as just farm workers but entrepreneurs and business people with an important role in our communities.”
The trainers are Karen Mapusua, POETCom Coordinating Officer; Dr. Shane Tutua, a soil scientist and farmer from the Solomon Islands; and Peter Kaoh, Associate Director of FSA; and Nambo Moses from the Vanuatu Ministry of Agriculture.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.
Mapasua said that POETCom recognised 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 at the workshop were from NGOs and organisations from 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 Centre, Vanuatu; and the Vanuatu Agricultural College as well as heads of extension services from the ministries of agriculture in Kiribati and Tuvalu.