Empowering women and youth by providing financial accessibility fosters an important opportunity for furthering Fiji’s economy through the agriculture sector.
This was highlighted by Ministry of Agriculture’s permanent secretary, David Kolitagane while officiating at the Empowering Women and Youth in Agriculture through Financial Inclusion stakeholder’s engagement workshop at Suva’s Business Centre recently.
Kolitagane reiterated that financial inclusion among farmers, especially women and youth in farming households was very low yet access to formal finance, savings and insurance played an important role in furthering agriculture development by lifting farmers into more commercialized activities thereby increasing their income levels.
“There is a strong need to empower women and youth in the agriculture sector and to link them up with financial services. This stakeholder workshop brings together various Ministries and Government bodies that are working in the field of rural development, agriculture, youth, and women.
“It is our goal to brainstorm in order to identify key obstacles to empowering women and youth in agriculture and to develop strategies as to how to best link them up with financial services that can help empower them,” Kolitagane said.
“The Government of Fiji greatly recognizes the importance of gender equality and youth development for economic growth. Nearly half of our population is female, and we are a young nation; the median age is 27.5 years.”
He added that women played an important role, and though it was not always reflected in official statistics, Fiji suffers from an aging farming problem whereby around 66 percent of farmers were already over the age of 40 years.
“To end this, the Ministry of Agriculture is supporting women and youth through various programmes that are open to women and youth; the Ministry established the Cottage Industry Programme in 2012 in collaboration with the Ministry of Women, Children and Poverty Alleviation, which specifically targets women who are actively involved and rely on agriculture as their source of livelihood,” Kolitagane said.
The Cottage Industry Programme is intended to empower women in both in rural and urban areas by helping them to improve their production of masi (Mulberry), voivoi (Pandanus), Virgin Coconut Oil, value-added coconut products, value addition of other products and floriculture in order to capitalize on available markets.
Since its inception, more than 3,000 women have been assisted under the Cottage Industry Programme and for the 2018/2019 financial year, the Ministry of Agriculture has allocated $200,000 for this programme.
Kolitagane also highlighted the Government supported programmes targeted at engaging youth in agriculture such as the Commercial Agriculture Scholarships and inter-governmental collaboration with the Ministry of Youth and Sports in working together on Agriculture Youth Clubs.
“The Ministry of Agriculture also supports agriculture training for youth through Tutu and Navuso Agriculture College, with total funding of over $1million. The Tutu College is unique, it provides agriculture vocation training to married couples as well as youth, and single women,” he added.