The first Pacific Week of Agriculture (PWA), organised by the Government of Vanuatu, FAO and the Pacific Community (SPC), came to an end on 20 October 2017 after three days of workshops and two days of meetings of Heads of Agriculture and Forestry (HOAFS) and Ministers of Agriculture and Forestry (MOAFS).Read More
Among the numerous topics addressed during the inaugural Pacific Week of Agriculture in Port Vila, Vanuatu from October 16-20, the place of young people into agribusiness ventures has caught a lot of attention. A concrete way to bring new incomes in Pacific Island states and to fight youth unemployment and rural exodus.
Vanuatu's Minister of Agriculture, Matai Seremaiah Nawalu, was present at the PWA youth agri-entrepreneurship side event. During his speech, he noted that more cross-sectoral policies are needed to push young people towards agribusiness and that consequently, his ministry will take action to work more closely with the Ministry of Youth.
"How can we get young people who are migrating to cities and abroad to develop and sustain rewarding agribusinesses? How can we help them make agriculture more profitable and attractive so that our young people see bright futures in their home countries?" asked Michael Hailu, Director of the Technical Centre for Agricultural and Rural Cooperation (CTA), which jointly organised the PWA youth agri-entrepreneurship side event with the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD), the Pacific Islands Private Sector Organisation (PIPSO) and the Pacific Community (SPC). Hailu further noted the catalytic role that CTA has been playing in this regard.
The Pacific's high rate of youth unemployment, which currently stands at 25%, poses a significant social and economic challenge to the region. Each year, 16,000 highly skilled Pacific islanders leave their countries for better-paid jobs in Australia and New Zealand.
Giving access to finance and ICTs
Identifying the drivers of success and the hurdles they had to overcome, the young agripreneurs panel called for more support in the areas of enabling policies and finance. Many of them believe as well that information and communication technologies (ICTs) can do much to increase the appeal of the agricultural sector, and attract other young people.A few young agripreneurs from African Caribbean and Pacific (ACP) countries who have launched innovative and successful start-ups have shared their experience with the audience.
Elvis Ouma is the co-director of the high-tech company, M-Fodder, which matches suppliers of hydroponically grown animal fodder with livestock farmers, ensuring delivery of the product once the deal has been agreed. Ouma designed the business model to address the shortfalls farmers faced in accessing reasonably priced fodder to increase productivity amid the country's rapidly growing demand for milk and meat. The start-up currently has 10,000 subscribers and Ouma is now planning to expand it to other East African countries. "It's a simple process that has changed livelihoods. It's also very cost-effective. The farmers save 40 % on livestock costs."
Meanwhile, in Trinidad, David Thomas, co-founder of an agrifood e-commerce business, also uses social media to show to customers how the produce is grown by island farmers. "We want to change the way people shop and help them to be more connected with their food." Between 2015 and 2016, D'Market Movers, the company, attracted 500,000 visitors to the website, selling 50,000 products. He has secured regular markets for over 250 farmers.
Engaging with young people
Two key recommendations from the side-event were to establish special youth programmes and investment windows to support agripreneurs and to advocate for a bottom-up driven policy process which engages young people. "We cannot assume what our youth want but we need to continuously engage with them if youths are to make any meaningful contribution to agricultural development," said Ron Hartman, IFAD Country Director for Indonesia and the Pacific.
The policy panel noted that small grants, seed funding and youth enterprise development funds helped the young entrepreneurs in venturing into agri-business which many consider as having high risks.