A fresh style of training for agriculturalists addresses topics from creativity to financial literacy
The 200 or so taro and cassava farmers in the Solomon Islands had likely not encountered this sort of workshop before. Neither, for that matter, have most people.
The more common agricultural skills building was combined with something else – an addressing of mindsets. Developed by Rex Maukera, a psychiatrist and small business owner, the training is based on the very real knowledge that being a successful farmer requires more than the hard labor of tilling and planting and harvesting, but also self-awareness, balance and focus.
“I was thinking why are other countries that have fewer resources then the Solomon Islands successful, and I think some of it has to do with mindset. We have the resources, we have the skills, we have the talents and we’ve been waiting. Of course, there are also other factors that contribute to the poverty here, but we also may narrow it down to look at the mindset factor,” said Maukera, who got his degree in Papua New Guinea.
He said, “I put together these mindset trainings, piloting with female vendors at markets, and later youth, so we can organize ourselves. And then I started working with other groups that were interested.”
The result? A rich four-day mix of reflection that covers specifics of agricultural economics, positivity and building wealth, with a dash of self-help and space for idea generation and challenging oneself. Sign me up.
“We started with trying to get the farmers onto the bigger goal, the supply side, and how to get there. Often these sorts of trainings go straight to the agricultural techniques, the farm management techniques, planning, bookkeeping, do that, do this, don’t do this or that, and then we lose sight of appreciating the role each farmer plays to meet the bigger goal – exports. This is the rationale,” said John Paul Alasia, Project Coordinator of the Enhanced Integrated Framework (EIF) in the Solomon Islands.
With most farmers in the country growing what they need for subsistence, and selling the excess, if any, Alasia and the EIF team developed this unique training program to work toward higher yields for farmers that will result in higher incomes.
And, they’re not ignoring the psych factor.
“I start with topics like knowing yourself to promote self-awareness, and then get them into creativity and innovation to enable participants to generate new ideas. I also include gender and society to help farmers understand their roles in society. We also include other topics that allow farmers to have strong team work and responsibility for each other. We conclude by covering dedicating time for yourself, and anti-stress techniques,” Maukera said.
The farmers themselves are central to the effort termed “project you”. Apart from focusing on agricultural techniques, people are introduced to a potential new paradigm that incorporates the person as a worker on the land, a farm manager and as a part of a family.
This holistic approach emphasizes the fact that farming is a business, and running one requires certain skills.
“We address a change in attitude in what they do, and how they see farming, towards the entrepreneurial part of the farming businesses. The feedback we got from the cassava farmers and the taro farmers was really, really good, and we had some good discussions with the participants and they asked us to expand and reach out to other communities and other farmers as well,” Alasia said.
For Maukera, the goal is to get participants to change behavior to benefit themselves and their communities.
“I just met one of the taro farmers yesterday. And he was telling me – because we showed a clip of a dancing guy during the training – ‘I'm dancing, I'm already dancing, I've planted almost 2,000 taro plants.’ So that made me excited and I thought ‘Something's happening’,” he said.
The trainings in Guadalcanal, Honiara and Malaita were the first in a series supported by EIF, with two others planned, one for taro farmers and one for agricultural field officers. The support is in the context of EIF’s broader work with the Solomon Islands government to boost economic opportunities for those in the agricultural sector. Part of this would involve export markets.
“We want to connect farmers to markets. We want to develop taro and cassava into export commodities. So hopefully next year we will start to export to other markets in the Pacific,” Alasia said.
With more than 75% of the labor force in the Solomon Islands engaged in subsistence farming and fishing, expanding exports has a lot of potential.
“There are solutions and opportunities out there for our farmers. One of the challenges that we face is with markets. In September we managed to export one container of cassava to Australia,” Alasia said.
Having more to export as a result of energized and empowered local farmers should help.