Farmers winners with Koko Innovation Challenge

Six cacao farmers have won $31,000 worth of farming equipment from the United Nations this week, after taking part in a Youth Koko Innovation Challenge.

More than 27 young farmers (under the age of 40) participated in the three month challenge, which wrapped up in February.

Those with the best cacao farming including spacing, maintenance and farming techniques took away prizes of expensive equipment like lawnmowers, chainsaws, wheelbarrows, machetes, hoses and more.

One woman is among the winners, Seutatia Vaai. She is 30 years old and recently added cacao to her plantation, and plans to share her winnings with two other young female farmers she is mentoring.

“I know what it feels like to start out, so I am grateful for this challenge that has allowed me not only to continue to help out other female farmers like myself but also to upgrade my cocoa farm at Fiaga,” she said.

The youngest winner is 17-year-old Larry Moli from Faleasiu. His family, all farmers, largely grow vegetables and root crops and he is the first to introduce cacao to his family’s farm.

“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,” he said.

The Challenge was funded by the United Nations Development Programme (U.N.D.P.) and its Youth Employment Programme (Y.E.P.), and delivered by the Samoa Chamber of Commerce and Industry. 

All participants were given free membership ($100) to the Samoa Koko Initiative Association (S.K.I.A.), which was set up to help develop the country’s Koko industry.

“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,” said Lemauga Hobart Vaai, Chief Executive Officer of the Samoa Chamber of Commerce.

“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.”

U.N.D.P. Resident Representative Jorn Sorensen said the U.N. will continue to help the young farmers develop by assisting the Koko Association with its capacity building work. 

Of the six winners, two are from Savaii. 

Winner Alefosio Kuka, 30-year-old farmer from Afega said cacao farming is expensive and labour intensive, but the free equipment will go a long way towards improving his farm.

And Faleaalili winner Pouafe Lalau said cacao’s long-term benefits make it a significant cash crop worth investing in.

“It was hard at first, but the best thing about cacao 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,” Mr Lalau said.

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