Iese Mataia, 24, from Vaitele, Samoa, had always planned to follow in his father’s footsteps and become a carpenter. He was working with a construction company when he heard about the Organic Warriors Academy programme launched by CTA partner Women in Business Development Inc (WIBDI) to encourage young people to return to the land. It was a decision that was to change his life.
Could you tell us a bit about the business you run?
I work in the business of growing vegetables, such as cabbages, root crops and herbs. The plot of land is not that big – I only have a quarter of an acre (0.1 hectare), which I work and live on, but the agribusiness helps my family in many ways through income earned. I really enjoy being a farmer.
How did you get started?
I never thought I would become a farmer. My father is a carpenter, so I thought I would be like him, and continue his trade. But then I joined the Organic Warriors Academy run by Women in Business Development Inc (WIBDI), and it made me change my mind. The value of agriculture was highlighted in the training offered by the programme, and that helped me to see what you can achieve through farming, and to realise that agriculture can generate considerable income for those who practise it.
How do you market your products?
I sell my vegetables and other crops directly through Farm to Table, which is a project managed by WIBDI and involves linking small-scale farmers to markets in the hospitality sector. This has made my work easier. I supply seven restaurants, cafes and hotels in Samoa, with the produce that I grow on my farm. Whatever is left over is used for family consumption. I enjoy the fact that I don’t have to find physical places to market my produce – unlike others who spend all day selling at the marketplace.
How important has training been to your success as an agripreneur?
The Organic Warriors Academy programme gave me the knowledge and ambition to start my own business, developing a vegetable garden, planting herbs and lots of other crops. It also taught me various other lessons, which gave me concrete ideas and methods in developing a small agricultural business, such as land mapping, developing an organic farm, seed saving and developing a business plan.
What are the main challenges that you face?
One of the biggest problems is the effect of climate change on everything that I farm. This is an issue for all farmers. Another difficulty is the damage caused by pests to my vegetable garden. Many plants are vulnerable to diseases, and this can cause huge problems, especially for vegetable leaves when they’re almost ready for harvest. One challenge that I am currently experiencing is lack of resources to plant what the market requires. Sometimes, the market makes a request and I do not have the exact produce, which affects the relationship with the buyer.
What are the rewards of farming?
The positive impact of farming is seeing the produce come into fruition. Another benefit is the health aspect. If you are an organic farmer, you ensure that all the crops grown on your farm are healthy for consumers. Farming gives you a good income that will help you with your family needs. Also, you are your own boss, and you manage your own time. As a farmer, you are not under someone’s supervision, as you would be if you were employed in an office job. You are working for yourself and your own family, and to contribute to the village for the benefit of your country.
What future do you see for agriculture?
I believe there is a very bright future for agriculture and for young farmers. If you’re a hard worker, you can generate a good income, and save money as well. In Samoa, we are greatly dependent on agriculture, and there are many opportunities to trade with other countries. To me personally, it is important to share the knowledge that I have gained through my experience of working on my land, and to share my achievements in order to encourage others to develop their own small businesses.
What advice would you give to other young people?
To all my fellow young brothers and sisters, I would say that being a farmer is something that comes from the heart. You need to work with love and passion, to develop your work in farming. If you are passionate about farming, then you will help many people, as you are contributing to the development of your extended family. Secondly, I would advise young people to change their thinking, and to stop believing that being a farmer is a dirty job, and one that won’t give you give you an income. Many farmers are earning good money by developing all kinds of agricultural work. I would advise young people to take agriculture seriously, and think about farming as full-time employment. You can save your earnings, hire the people you need for daily operations, and you can work at your own pace.