By DOREEN PHILIP
THE attitude towards agriculture in PNG, especially farming is one that it is for the poor and the elderly.
If you ask young people, even in rural areas, what they want to do, maybe 85- 90 per cent will tell you they don’t want to be in agriculture. They want to go to cities and do other jobs. It’s important to change the narrative around agriculture and education because the education and training young people received – either at college or university has been designed to train people how to work for somebody and not themselves. And this in itself is not integral human development.
Agriculture is not just hard labour that pays very little but looking at agribusiness value chain, it is an opportunity for young people to engage in business.
Few years back, the Post Courier and The National published a success story of a young boy who helped his parents grow Chinese cabbage and raise freshwater carp to pay for his school fees. Imagine if this boy had maintained and expanded this activity of course he would have raised enough money and created jobs for his peers.
While we can blame the agriculture sector’s underperformance on poor infrastructure and telecommunications, lawlessness, lack of political will and commitment, inadequate development support and research, it’s time we stop relying on government handouts. As young people we need to network among ourselves to improve awareness and knowledge on food security and sustainably, organic farming and climate smart agriculture at the community level.
Contextualise agripreneurship case studies, think outside the box
Imagine you are a pig farmer, having identified the demand for pork consumption at ceremonies and feasts, you have decided after buying four piglets that you want to breed that stock to meet the demand. There are many challenges but as a young person, think outside of the box, be creative. In order to grow your business use Google to get information on best practice and how to look after pigs. Do your own market research. Open a Facebook account to market your small business. You can also rear traditional chicken and ducks for home consumption too. You will be surprised that one day you will start buying additional pigs from other farmers and start selling them to a retailer. And you are on your way of taking farming to another level in food production.
Lessons from African youth
I admire the zeal and resilience of young African entrepreneurs. With little formal education after receiving training, support and guidance in choosing an income generating activity they have succeeded as farmers and entrepreneurs. In Zambia, a group of young entrepreneurs have developed a digital platform that uses machine learning to forecast weather conditions and probability of pest invasions or disease outbreaks.
The aim is to take preventative action to mitigate risks and farmers simply take a photo of their crop and send it to company via social media channels or WhatsApp, and the system immediately provides a diagnosis, options for treatment (if needed) and locations of the nearest suitable agro-dealers.Users of this platform range from smallholders to commercial farmers, extension service providers, NGOs, government and environmental institutions. Without the skills to develop, operate and maintain such technologies, African youth cannot make the most of the opportunities offered by agriculture’s digitalization.This type of innovation help to reduce the risks and improve the efficiency of farming–making it a more attractive livelihood option for rural young people.
In Kenya for example a school drop out with minimal education ventured into farming after attending short courses on how to grow bananas and sweet potatoes. After identifying the niche he expanded the farm and started supplying to town market and restaurants. The journey was not so easy but the farmer succeeded in areas where many have failed in because he had the passion and was determined to do business.
There are key lessons that could be drawn from countries with similar production systems. Young people have the upper hand to harness the transformative potential and economic rewards presented by agriculture’s digitalization. In farms where the average farmer age is 60 plus, half the land is being cultivated due to the age of the farmer and energy to invest in farming. These farmers tend to be slow to innovate or use ICTs for communication.
Accessing land to farm may be a problem as parents are unwilling to hand over land due to inheritance tradition or conflicts with other children. In PNG we don’t hear stories about young people leasing or renting a land from their parents or landowners to use– an approach that works for businesses only.
Young people need to step out of their comfort zones harness technology and innovation in agriculture, use best practice for environment and contribute to a healthy lifestyle. While many youth seek into despair when they are forced to drop out of school being weak in class does not mean you won’t excel in life or become rich in other areas, try your hand in agriculture if you have the passion.
There are many opportunities the unemployed youth can utilise and make it big instead of complaining of lack of employment. The problem is lack of ambition and passion, many do not realise this and take advantage to generate income for themselves and create job opportunities for others.
- The writer is an agriculture enthusiast.