For decades, the major farming states, including Australia and New Zealand in the Pacific, have taken advantage of migratory flows to provide a workforce that is voluntary, flexible and, let's be honest, often on the cheap. Indeed, eager to find a job to support their families, many migrants were ready to accept difficult working conditions and very low wages as long as it allowed them to access a job.
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The pandemic context of the 2020s had a major impact on the island economies, with many workers having lost employment opportunities in these countries due to the stoppage of international transport.
It is this pandemic that has triggered the emergence of a new trend: robotic farming. More than buying machines to do the hard work (as new horses in the post-industrial age), farms have become almost completely self-sufficient: machines in fields controlled by multi purpose sensors linked to centralized systems of artificial intelligence ensuring the complete management of the operation.
Certain elements of these new systems, i.e. connected sensors part, originated from here in Tahiti, where a production plant was developed about twenty years ago. But if the development of this new type of agriculture benefitted the people of Tahiti on this specific market; however, it was a major loss for many migrant workers from other Pacific islands, traditionally closely linked to Australia and New Zealand.
This is why the Pacific Forum recently created a working commission on the subject to try to put pressure on farmer states and influence them to find new opportunities for these workers. One of the solutions envisaged is to encourage the farms of these States, which have benefited for decades from this migrant labor force, to invest in the development of island agriculture by training local farmers and helping to the adaptation of technology to the island context.
Another option would be to fund the studies of many young people from the islands to train them in these new industries and to make them potential entrepreneurs in these new sectors.
Of course, as in any international dialogue, the balance is not in favor of the Pacific Islands. But the Forum hopes to take advantage of the environmental commitments of these States to engage them in participating in more efficient agriculture and therefore less pollution.
The task will be long and many hope that the solutions implemented can be extended to ocean and aquaculture farms in the region. To be continued ...