17 Jul 2013

Call for for Solomon Islands to focus on agriculture for youth

5:09 pm on 17 July 2013

A commentator in Solomon Islands, Dr John Roughan, says the government has to put a focus on agriculture to create employment for the country's youth.

Dr Roughan, who started the Community Development Trust, and has been an advisor to former prime minister, Manasseh Sogavare, says Solomon Islands has enormous advantages for food production but the sector needs investment.

Commenting as the country marked 35 years of independence, Dr Roughan says unless the government grapples with issues like youth unemployment and the loss of land in Honiara to foreigners, more unrest is likely.

JOHN ROUGHAN: These problems have not gone away since independence time. They just become deeper and deeper. They have to be responded to, and they don't seem to be being responded to.

DON WISEMAN: In terms of unemployment, I guess there are efforts to try and stimulate the economy, but clearly you've got a very large number of people coming on to the job market every year, and essentially, nothing to absorb the great majority of them.

JR: I wish I could argue with you, but I think you've hit it right on the head.

DW: What can the government do?

JR: I think we have to go with our strengths, and one of our strengths is we have arable land, we have good climate and we have masters at growing food. To me, this whole agricultural idea is to make it a full industry, not just simply growing more and better food, but the whole production cycle, the whole infrastructure needed to keep this food flowing, preserve it. In other words, let's put on our thinking caps and say, 'How can we make agriculture a more productive industry?' That means investment.

DW: Can you see where that would come from? Is there money within Solomon Islands that could be directed into agriculture or does it have to be foreign investment?

JR: I think the most important thing, Don, is the investment, for sure. But [the idea is] to get our leaders' minds around the idea that it would go with our strengths. And one of our strengths is that we have the great potential to great more and better food, which will never go out of style.

DW: This problem, in terms of the unemployment that exists coupled with the land issues, you suggest that if government doesn't confront these they're going to face more unrest. How would you see that manifesting itself?

JR: For unemployment, for instance, I don't want those who have got some kind of a degree to go back to the land. I don't mean that. But make agriculture an industry. The transportation sector, the information sector could be expanded greatly because our people have the basics of growing better and more food, but perhaps they need more information. They need more research, more understanding of how important food is. Talk about food security, yes, great. But what does food security mean to an islander? That whole issue has to be explored.