Youth Unemployment and Agriculture in the Pacific

Attention among international agencies has been paid to the plight of Pacific youth in the Pacific Plan and through a number of reports including:

Unemployment has been widely found to be negatively correlated with human welfare as measured by a number of different indicators in terms of physical and mental health as well as long term impact on future earning potential.  Some unemployment figures are presented here.  The graphs below are taken from a table I found buried within  an SPC policy paper from 2006 presented to the Committee of Representatives of Governments and Administrations (at the bottom of the blog post). The charts below show the following trends:

  • The younger the adult, the more likely he/she is to be unemployed;
  • Women are more likely to be unemployed than men.
  • The two Micronesian countries featured, FSM and Marshall Islands (RMI), have very high unemployment for all ages and both genders – over 30% in FSM and over 60% in RMI.  It would be interesting to see if unemployment is measured differently (e.g. not according to a standard ILO definition and technical standards) in some countries but such large differences imply a real phenomenon. 

These trends have key relevance in terms of where to focus employment policy – as well as agricultural policy: employment and empowerment of young people, particularly women, is a crucial element.  The importance of these trends is underlined by the very low median age of the population in PICTs.

The above-mentioned reports each carry the same message about the importance of agriculture for Pacific youth, which is a combination of good psychology and economic good sense, and include the following points:

  • agriculture is an extremely important employer and contributor to the economy in its own right; 
  • the negative perception that it is a Plan B for when the Plan A of a job in an office in town falls through has to be successfully addressed;
  • the right skill-sets for personal and commercial success in agriculture have to be taught including practical skills and business skills and entrepreneurship, but taking a holistic approach (see next point);
  • the community and family environment must be supportive.  According to the Pacific Youth in Agriculture Strategy,  in Fiji The Marist Training Centre in Tutu, Taveuni, Montfort Boys Town, the Christian Mission Fellowship and the Methodist Church run successful agricultural programmes and activities targeted at young people, tying in success in agriculture with moral and spiritual development.  The report states that “vocational schools  such as Tutu provide a holistic approach to agricultural education by focusing on spiritual self-development and empowerment and providing young people with the life-skills necessary to become self reliant career farmers. In particular, they actively balance the important contribution young people make to communal and church endeavours with a recognition that career farmers need to have security and control over their resources. They work with their families and communities to facilitate access to land and set up appropriate financial structures that provide this security.”
  • however the “incentive” barriers discouraging youth from entering agriculture have to be addressed.   It is a basic tenet of economics that property rights over the benefits accruing from work must be protected in order to achieve the greatest welfare: people will work or invest less if they aren’t likely to see or have autonomy over the benefits of their efforts or costs expended.  However, for many youth, a large proportion of the crops they grow are automatically given to their elders or the community, resulting in a low incentive to keep putting effort into agricultural production – the returns from it are lower or less certain.  The right balance has to be struck between youth empowerment and communal obligations; youth must be able to reap enough of the fruits of their own labour.  The Marist Training Centre in Tutu addresses this issue by enabling youth to keep the revenues from the enterprise each student runs as part of the scheme, allowing “control over the decisions associated with the enterprise [and] separation of revenue generated by the enterprise from that of other communal activities.”

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