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Chand does Fiji, Pacific proud

December 25
12:00 2010

image Written By : DEV NADKARNI Indian Newslink. A young Fiji agriculturist of Indian descent has won a rare accolade for his ideas to attract young people to one of the most vital professions that is increasingly being seen by youngsters as unsexy in the developing world – farming – and suggesting the use of technology to maximise yield and profit.
Nadi-born Riten Chand Gosai won the CTA ARDYIS Pacific Regional Prize at an international essay competition in South Africa last month.
The European Union-funded Technical Centre for Agriculture and Rural Development (CTA is its French acronym) ran the competition in the 79-nation grouping of developing countries known as ACP (African Caribbean Pacific) in which all the island nations of the South Pacific are included.
The problem of food security does not get the attention it deserves, when compared to issues like climate change about which there is far more coverage in the media.
Rising populations and rapidly growing prosperity, particularly in the fast growing economies of India and China, are exerting ever-growing pressure on the food supply chain.
As these countries grow, their demand for natural resources grows by leaps and bounds. It is no surprise that forests, equivalent to several football fields, are lost because of urbanisation, which is also claiming farmlands for increased demand in housing.
This leaves less land and water for food cultivation, which explains China’s pursuit of farmlands in distant countries like New Zealand – to ensure future food supply for their growing populations.
Amid these pressures there is yet another issue that is affecting agriculture particularly in developing countries rather severely.
Less and less young people are attracted to farming, which is creating a severe shortage of human resources in the farming sector. Young people are attracted to urban lifestyles and farming isn’t seen as a “sexy” profession to be in.
The essay competition was run as a programme of ARDYIS – Agriculture and Rural Development Youths in the Information Society – a project to involve youths in agriculture and exploit ICT (information and communication technology) tools for the betterment of agriculture in ACP countries and also to raise the standard of rural areas and the rural population.
Youths between the ages of 18 to 30 were encouraged to take part from all ACP countries. Out of the hundreds of entries received, the jury selected two finalists from each of the six ACP regions (South Africa, East Africa, West Africa, Central Africa, Caribbean and the Pacific).
These 12 finalists were invited to Johannesburg, South Africa, to present their essays last month. Out of the 12, six regional winners were selected. Chand was declared the “Pacific Regional Winner” for his essay titled, ‘Use of information and communication technology to address information poverty and reluctance of farmers to commercialise in the Fiji islands’.
When Chand was asked what it was like winning the keenly contested competition, he told the Indian Weekender: “I had my fingers crossed. Going to South Africa to present our essays in front of experts was an achievement itself – the win was a bonus.”
What made the young Chand take to a profession increasingly seen as uninteresting and unglamorous by young people?
“Right from high school, an aspiration was always there to do something and prove that agriculture is not a layman’s subject, especially for a Pacific country like Fiji where we survive by agriculture – as a matter of fact, we need agriculture,” Chand said.
“Consequently, the urge to change the stereotype and negative attitude of people, particularly the youth, towards agriculture provided the inspiration to write something that really appealed to the judges.
“I wanted my essay to have some meaning, to carry some weight and to be able to influence the youths to join me in saying ‘yes’ to agriculture.”
Chand has had an excellent career at Mulomulo Primary and Mulomulo Secondary schools and has been the school Dux and Head Boy.
He was adjudged Best Senior Prefect in 2005. He won an AusAID (Australian aid programme) scholarship for “Bachelors of Agriculture” degree at the University of the South Pacific’s (Alafua Campus in Samoa) in 2008.
“I have been in Samoa for three years now and I am graduating with my degree in December,” Chand said.
“But the greatest achievement so far is winning this competition in South Africa and being declared the Pacific Regional winner.”
What’s next for Chand, whose prize is a first for the whole of the Pacific region?
“I would like to encourage the youths of Fiji to quit the stereotype that agriculture is for weak students – it just may be the most important sector in Fiji in two or three decades to come when climate change, urbanisation and population growth threatens our food security,” he said.
“Interactive use of ICT tools (especially mobile phones) has potentials to greatly assist with agriculture and rural development.
“We, being in Fiji, just cannot ignore agriculture and focus on industries alien to us – we have to give agriculture first priority. This will encourage rural development as well. Any discussion on such topics is most welcomed and I encourage youths to join my bandwagon.
“When I envisage the future of the Pacific in 20 – 30 years and think of its food security, I see agriculture extremely important. A country like Fiji needs innovative people in this field who can really move this industry without serious implications on the environment and its sustainability.
“While the fragile Pacific environment needs protection, increased agricultural output is also vital – we need skilled agricultural professionals to avoid this imbalance. The Pacific needs a green revolution of its own, and I believe I can contribute.”
Chand plans to put up a web page, probably on a social networking site like Facebook in the next few weeks to post news related to agriculture and the Pacific.
“I also want to assist youths via this webpage – giving advice, career tips, discussing ideas and how to get into agricultural studies and move away from this negative attitude people have toward agriculture,” Chand says.
Another Fiji resident, Miriama Kunawave Brown, won the ‘The Pacific Representative Award’ at the Johannesburg event last month.

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