The increasing youth population of PNG can be our greatest opportunity for development, but with limited job prospects, how are we going to convert their current frustrations into enthusiasm and prosperity for themselves, families and the nation.
According to 2011 census data, 54% of the population are under the age of 25, and 18% between the age of 15-24. It is predicted that the next census will reveal the proportion of people in PNG between these ages will rise further.
There is no doubt this youth bulge is changing the landscape for PNG. According to the Chief Executive of Oil Search, Peter Botten, traditional community governance systems have broken down over the past 25 years. He said with the bigger and bigger youth population, there has been a break-down in tribal structures. Once people knew exactly who to speak too, today this is much more unclear. The introduction of mobile phones and social media has made managing communities a much more complex process.
There are many reports of youth getting into trouble, taking drugs, drinking alcohol and committing crimes just to make small amounts of money. Many have moved from their rural communities to the cities looking for opportunities that do not exist. Put simply, youth are bored and desperate for change.
There are lots of opportunities back in their villages, but like their parents and grandparents, they are unaware of what those opportunities are, and if they do, how to take them forward. Youth do not want to follow their parent’s footsteps and be a labourer to their land, toiling hard for next to nothing. Youth want to have a more exciting life, be able to make more money, and use the skills they learnt at schools and universities.
Our young population is an opportunity for PNG. They experience connectivity like no other population group. They are well positioned to be responsive and adaptive to changes in their environments. Young people are ready to adopt new ways of doing things. They have an intuitive understanding of, and are readily able to adopt new technologies that can unlock PNG’s potential.
Youth can play a major role in transforming the agriculture sector from being dominated by low productivity subsistence gardens to an increasing number of profitable small businesses. As farmers watch and see their own development in their own communities, they will begin to shed their reluctant pessimistic views, and become inspired to adopt new ways of doing business. Youth have the energy and desire to support farmers through training and extension. There are numerous university graduates who are desperate for a productive profession. Agriculture can and will provide opportunities if we work differently, if we work smarter, not harder, if we start to think farming as a business and have the necessary resources to enable that to happen.
Youth have been marginalised for too long and need to have a seat at the decision-making table. If we don’t change now, our young population will become older and even more frustrated. They will be exacerbating, rather the contributing, to the challenges the country faces. We should be proactive, take advantage of the opportunities a young, vibrant, hard-working population can bring. Youth want a great future for PNG, and vitally, to be part of that future.