Willie Moken has a bucket list. Grow tall, strong and build his house, not far from his parent’s place in Lonahu settlement, on Tanna Island in Vanuatu.
Right now though he’s still a 16-year-old dependent, sharing the living space with his parents and siblings, an arrangement he dubs temporary because he has a plan. It involves building an organic vegetable and root-crops farm and saving as much money as he can. With consistency, he believes the inevitable will happen; he will have enough to build his house decked out with the works – electricity, water supply and room to spare.
He felt at odds with a classroom, more like a fish out of water so he quit while in Year 6. Farming was a natural fit, he said, and he loved planting ball cabbages, taro and kava. He joined the Napil Rural Training Centre programme that teaches unemployed youths from the local area to eke an income and save for future needs. The Centre is linked to Farm Support Association, an implementing partner for the two- year Organic Farm to Table project. The project is supported by the United Nations Development Programme through the Sustainable Development Fund (SDG-F) in partnership with the Pacific Organic and Ethical Trade Community (POETCom). POETCom is housed in the Pacific Community.
Through the Farm to Table initiative Willie who currently sells to the local market will be able to connect with new buyers in the tourism sector. The project objectives involve working with youth in Vanuatu and Fiji to provide them with skills in organic farming and facilitating linkages between the agriculture and tourism sectors to create opportunities for them to earn an income.
“I like farming because I can make lots of money from it,” he said. Apart from selling organic farm produce, Willie also likes to eat them. “I can tell the difference in the taste of cassava planted in chemicals and one grown organically. Organic cassava has so much good taste,” he said.
“It’s just like how the chicken from the farm tastes so much better than the one from the shop. “I also feel good farming without chemicals because I know I am not contributing to harming the soil but instead I am making it healthy by mulching and composting.”
Willie also has some wisdom to offer his peers. “If you dropped out of school early and you don’t have a job, try farming,” he said. “Organic farming is good because there’s no sickness in it, farming is the life! “Even if you have a job and work hard at your computer, at the end of the day you have to eat. “On the farm, everything is free, unlike in the town where you have to pay for everything.”