In the Pacific islands, where the population is expected to double by 2050, there is an urgent need for youth to become entrepreneurial and creative risk-takers to help develop innovative, and environmentally sustainable, agricultural economies. But, although more than half of the South Pacific population (10 million) is under 25 years-old, these young people are experiencing problems in entering both formal and informal labour markets. Each year, 16,000 highly skilled Pacific islanders leave their countries for better paid jobs.
So, what do these young people need to be able to succeed as entrepreneurs in Pacific agriculture? From five Pacific Island states – Fiji, Niue, Solomon Islands, Tonga and Vanuatu – young agripreneurs and youths working for organisations that support youth-led enterprise development, share their experiences and recommendations.
“Pursue your ambitions, it is not easy to venture into business, but if you have the commitment and the resources to start a business, then you have to start somewhere,” says Agnes Pilopaso, managing director at Tupaghotua Cocoa Plantation in the Solomon Islands. Pilopaso received SB $10,000 (€1,100) initial funding to kick-start her business after winning a Women in Business Award from the Central Bank of the Solomon Islands in 2015. Later, in 2016, she received another award at the Solomon Islands Cocoa and Chocolate Festival ‘SolChoc’ that enabled her to buy processing equipment to grow her business. Today, her company, which buys and exports cocoa, provides employment for 38 local people – 16 women and 22 men. Tupaghotua Cocoa Plantation was also one of the 23 grantees who got awarded with the Innovation Grant Facility (IGF) initiated under ‘Promoting Nutritious Food Systems in the Pacific Islands’ project. The IGF enabled her to provide capacity bulding training for 100 farmers that supply her with cocoa beans on Integrated Pest and Disease Management (IPDM), best practices on fermentation and drying quality beans and quality food and safety training on cocoa powder & chocolate. This will help her to increase and stabilise the farmers’ cocoa production and income.
In 2016, Noah Laxton Tiona was able to take the first step in kick-starting his business in the Solomon Islands selling Kaimaimai – a syrup made from fresh coconut juice that tastes like honey – after benefiting from a government loan scheme. However, Tiona asserts that in most cases, youths are not eligible to access financial support, and believes that models and success stories outlining the impact of such initiatives could do much to attract additional public and private investments targeting youth unemployment. He would also like to see bankers make it easier for youth to access financial help in order to professionalise their businesses, through, for instance, lowering the age for accessing loans and offering business mentoring. “I believe if youth are educated to be entrepreneurs, it will significantly improve their standard of living,” he says.
But whilst some entrepreneurs are fortunate enough to access financing opportunities in the Pacific region, there is a call for governments and donors to do more. “The government needs to invest in programmes and projects that will make young people attracted to agriculture. A simple policy that has ultimate impact is needed,” says Lorfan Pomana, 28, who works for MORDI Tonga Trust, a community organisation in Tonga. The need for government-supported schemes in the agriculture sector is reiterated by Hinima Charles, who works for the programme called Youth at Work in the Solomon Islands: “Often, youth are ineligible to access loans. Extra youth schemes should support youth in accessing funding,” she says.
Feofaaki Sakalia Fou won a small grant from IFAD in 2013, which she used to build a commercial processing kitchen and develop packaging for her snack products. Fou also received further support from the local Agricultural Department and processing organisations, like Niue Food Processors and Niue Island Organic Farmers, to negotiate produce prices with farmers and to secure an overseas market in New Zealand. “Personal development, as well as professional development, needs to be encouraged,” she says, and to other young people she advises, “Take the risk, take the opportunity, work hard and seek advice.”
Business advice cannot be undervalued by youths in a region considered amongst the most challenging to launch and run a small to medium-size business, according to the World Bank report Doing Business 2018. “Registering a business in Fiji is extremely expensive and difficult. Given the limited access to funds, this process was largely navigated through trial and error,” explains Litia Kirwin, 30, who runs a sustainable development start-up in Fiji. In this Pacific country, it takes around 40 days to register a business, following 11 different procedures, compared with one single procedure in New Zealand, where the registration process takes about half a day. In regards to helping youths set up and expand their agri-businesses, Litia recommends that, “Youth should be more exposed to international good practices, and their visibility increased. Creating organised networks of like-minded people should also be encouraged.”
Providing a pathway
Many young agripreneurs in the Pacific, including those mentioned here, are driven by a desire to make changes for the better in their communities, but evidently feel that there is a lack of financial and mentoring support to venture into and grow their business. Governments and donor programmes can offer a useful pathway to pilot effective approaches to support youth agripreneurs. They should recognise and provide support to those highly motivated individuals, as the mindsets of these young people are crucial to driving economic change and wellbeing for their communities.
This article was created through a CTA-led process to document and share actionable knowledge on 'what works' for ACP agriculture. It capitalises on the insights, lessons and experiences of practitioners to inform and guide the implementation of agriculture for development projects.