Young farmers win big with Koko Innovation Challenge


Apia, Samoa – Six young koko farmers are counting their blessings this week when they won much-needed farming tools, worth about $31,000 Tala, under the Youth Koko Innovation Challenge.

The Koko Challenge was funded under the Youth Employment Programme, YEP, implemented by the Samoa Chamber of Commerce and the United Nations Development Programme.

It aimed to motivate youths to get into, and stay, in cocoa farming. More than 57 youth farmers joined the Challenge over a period of three months from November 2019 to February 2020.

From there, six winners were chosen based on their koko farming competency, which included koko spacing, farming maintenance, and sustainable farming techniques. All the participants have received free membership into the Samoa Koko Initiative Association (SKIA), worth $100 Tala, for mentoring and other benefits.

“The importance of this challenge is to encourage our youth to continue farming and to see farming as an exciting and growing entrepreneurship and business opportunity. Youth are excelling in agriculture which has a huge local and international demand to create employment and economic growth for our country, and we want to support that,” said Lemauga Hobart Vaai, Chief Executive Officer, Samoa Chamber of Commerce.

“We are pleased to support this Innovation Challenge as it aligns with one of the aims of the YEP where small businesses amongst vulnerable families are supported, and youth are mentored to create start-ups, and scale-up existing social enterprises. To ensure the participating youth farmers’ efforts are further developed, additional support will be available through their membership with SKIA over a 12-month period,” said Jorn Sorensen, UNDP’s Resident Representative.

The prizes consist of tools needed on a daily basis on farms such as lawn mowers, chainsaws, green house materials, machetes, wheelbarrows, spades, cutters, pitchforks and garden hoses.

The only female winner, Seutatia Vaai, is a 30-year old multi-farmer who has recently added cocoa farming to her list as she recognizes its potential. Through her farm, she is also helping other young, female farmers like herself, who want to get into cocoa farming, but find it difficult due to the lack of starting capital. Her prizes will also benefit them.

“I’ll be sharing my prizes from the Koko Challenge with the two young female farmers that I am mentoring at the moment. I know what it feels like to start out, so I am so grateful for this Challenge that has allowed me to not only continue to help out other female farmers like myself, but also to continue to upgrade my cocoa farm at Fiaga,” said Ms Vaai.

The youngest of the winners, 17-year-old Larry Moli of Faleasiu, is from a family of farmers. Their family farm has won multiple prizes over the years at various local agricultural shows. He saw first-hand how farming has sustained his family financially, so he decided to take it up, but with cocoa, as his family focuses more on vegetables and root crops.

“Koko farming is not easy to get into because you have to wait a while to reap the fruits of your labour and earn money, but you realize that it is all worth it in the end. I encourage young people like myself to take up koko farming to earn a living and help out their parents and families,” said Mr Moli.

His sentiments are echoed by the other winner, 30-year-old Alefosio Kuka of Afega. Like Mr Moli, he too said koko farming can be hard and expensive, which is why he is grateful for the Challenge which has enabled him to access tools he never would have been able to afford otherwise.

“I am so grateful for these tools that will help me greatly in maintaining and growing my farm so that I can continue to support my family,” said Mr Kuka. “Being a part of this Challenge has also inspired me to continue with my koko farm.”

The final Upolu winner, Pouafe Lalau, is a 33-year-old male farmer from Salesatele, Falealili. He grows a variety of crops on his eight acre farm, but he was attracted to cocoa farming for its long-term benefits.

“It was hard at first, but the best thing about cocoa farming is that you can continue to earn a lot of money from one cocoa tree for a long time before it needs to be replaced. In the meantime, I can earn income from my other crops,” said Mr Lalau.

Prizes will be given out to the two youth winners in Savaii later this month.

The Youth Employment Programme, YEP, aims to achieve sustainable and inclusive economic empowerment by ensuring that youth, women and vulnerable groups benefit from inclusive and sustainable economic development that creates decent jobs, reduces multi-dimensional poverty and inequalities, and promotes economic empowerment.