To celebrate International Women’s Day on March 8, The World Bank spoke to some of the region’s young and emerging female leaders for their take on the future of their countries and the major challenges ahead.
Agnes Meredith is a Veterinary Officer at the Samoan Ministry of Agriculture and Fisheries.
When she’s not trying to bring about new livestock opportunities for farmers, Agnes can be found at home tending to her vegetable garden. She wants to encourage farming at an early age and get children outdoors, away from video games and smartphones.
What does a day at work look like for you?
I’ve been working as a veterinarian in the government for over four years and I’m one of two veterinarians in the whole country. We focus on a wide range of things including biosecurity – certifying pets for export and inspecting dogs arriving at the airport on an early morning flight. We do work on animal health and production such as herd health programs and cattle musters. We also treat sick and injured animals that get reported to us because there is no private vet for livestock.
On our quiet days, an island vet can typically be found in the office catching up on emails, reading up on articles to update our knowledge and continue our education, writing up field reports way past their due date and reviewing policies. If we’re lucky, we might also have some spare time in our calendar to attend some local workshops for professional development and fostering good partnerships with our public health counterparts.
Looking with a long-term view of around 25 years, what’s your ideal future for Samoa?
Because my background is mainly around developing agriculture through improved policies and provision of extension and veterinary services to livestock farmers, I’d like to see a future for Samoa where agricultural systems have undergone a significant level of organization and innovation, and increased independence from imports.
I’d like to see more young people gain interest and a passion for growing crops and taking care of livestock, because as it stands the majority of our farmers are an ageing group, and that worries me, because it isn’t sustainable. I’d like to see more young people engaging with these more experienced farmers, but also similarly in other professional fields like engineering, education and medicine.
I’d like to see Samoa be more orientated towards the land and the sea, back-to-basics, but obviously with a lot more efficiency as we try to keep up with technology and the growing presence of climate change.
What do you think is necessary to make those things a reality?
I think a lot of work has to be done around strong, persistent awareness and education for the sector and I think this can only be achieved through strong public-private partnerships.
The sector is also in great need of more passionate, innovative and qualified individuals that are able to strategize and implement sector activities without getting side tracked by personal (and political) goals and agendas.
So the question is: how do we identify these individuals and how do we ensure their recruitment and retention and prevent losing them to New Zealand or Australia due to professional burnout?
A lot of great initiatives are also slowed down by a lack of funding and enabling policies, so it would be great to see better partnerships between key players for research, development, education and awareness.
Taking a broader view of the Pacific region as a whole, where do you want to see the Pacific in the future?
Climate change is currently the biggest threat to our region and so in that respect, I’d like to see a more connected and united front against climate change. Considerations for culture preservation is also a given.
I’d like to see more ‘farmer friendly’ platforms established for farmers in the Pacific that can facilitate continuous sharing of experiences and information. I’d also like to see a more regional recognition of the farming community through an awards or scholarship program.
What challenges are there to achieving this?
There are many challenges. The main one, I think, is the lack of good evidence-based policies within the agriculture sector, despite the plethora of regional case studies available online to follow as a model.
Secondly, money talks. Many new initiatives and developments within the agriculture sector are driven by foreign aid and grants and, without the right enabling policies, they can contribute to poor sustainability of the initiatives. Another challenge is the lack of good trustful partnerships between farmers, government, and even between government departments.
Our mindsets need to change so that we become better planners, researchers, communicators, doers and policy makers. Because this is currently the biggest challenge I’ve experienced in my working life in Samoa: complacency.
What gives you hope for the future of Samoa and the Pacific region?
Despite all the challenges, there is still hope. I see there is an increasing number of what I like to call ‘progressive Ministries’ hiring younger staff members from a pool of well-experienced individuals so that age is not a deciding requirement. I see more female CEOs now than there was a decade ago, so gender is not as big a factor in recruitment. I see many young entrepreneurs setting up shops and cafes in town. I see more and more restaurants advocating for local produce and meat. I see more and more farmers genuinely care for their livestock and valuing the advice of our extension officers.
Good changes are seen everywhere, we just need to keep our eyes and minds open. Cultivating a system based on mutual respect, integrity and professionalism will also make a big difference in the performance of a sector. Partnerships are vital and everyone has a role to play. This is the overstated yet highly underestimated secret to moving forward.
Finish this sentence: ‘In the Pacific, it’s possible…
“In the Pacific, it’s possible to bridge the gaps between culture and innovation so that all generations, both present and future can create a new global culture where synergy, not economic profit, becomes a way of life.”