By Kondwani Chitosi:
When growing up, Mercy Chimkunda Phiri, 30, harboured the dream of becoming a journalist. The fame and adventure of travelling to places that are associated with the profession appealed to her.
Sadly, her dream was shattered before she even took the first step into this journey.
“I failed to qualify for enrolment for a certificate class at Malawi Institute of Journalism in 2018,” Phiri says.
It is this rejection that pushed her onto an alternative path; something to keep her busy and bring food on the table. She settled for pig farming.
Like most youths who regard farming as a pastime activity or something temporary while waiting for an employed job, Phiri embraced the same line of thought at the beginning.
“I went into piggery as a temporary measure while I looked for something else to do,” she says.
With a capital investment of K40,000, Phiri bought two piglets for a start. But lack of knowledge and skills in entrepreneurship hampered the growth of her venture.
“I had little knowledge on how I could grow the business and ended up in a hand-to-mouth situation,” says Phiri, who is based at Lumbadzi in Dowa District.
When an advert was floated in the media calling for young people to learn entrepreneurial skills in agriculture, information and communication technology (ICT) and manufacturing, Phiri did not hesitate to apply.
The call was made through Jobs for the Youth (J4Y) programme that is being implemented by the Ministry of Youth.
Phiri’s application was successful and she went through the programme at Mikolongwe College of Agriculture J4Y incubation centre in Chiradzulu.
“The training empowered me with relevant skills in entrepreneurship with regard to my business and that marked the start of my success,” the mother of one says.
The six-month training improved her animal husbandry, business and marketing skills. She now takes good care of her pigs, accounts for her business and finds better markets.
For her, piggery is no longer a temporary economic activity. Her routine activities revolve around this business.
She now owns 64 pigs and when she goes to a market, a single pig fetches an average price of K80,000.
Her newly-found passion and positive returns in piggery have banished that memory of rejection in a journalism career into history.
“I never thought agri-business would make me financially independent.
“Now, I can take care of my every need and that of my daughter including paying for her school fees,” says Phiri, adding that she no longer harbours the desire to look for an employed job.
She is an employer herself with one permanent worker who takes care of the pigs. She also runs a piglet pass-on programme as one way of empowering widowed women and the youth.
“I am proud of transforming lives of vulnerable populations by inspiring them with my success in livestock farming,” Phiri says.
The Lumbadzi-based woman is grateful to the J4Y programme for propelling her business to success.
J4Y is a government-run programme through the Ministry of Youth with financial support from the African Development Bank (ADB).
The aim of the programme is to reduce youth unemployment, which currently stands at 23 percent.
Lameck Matiki, 23, is another participant of the J4Y programme who is engaged in agriculture to finance his education at Lilongwe University of Agriculture and Natural Resources (Luanar).
“My parents could not support me financially through college. So, I rented a piece of land where I would grow vegetables to finance my education,” Matiki says.
When he graduated in 2018 with a Bachelor of Science in Horticulture degree, he struggled to find a job and resorted to continue with his horticulture business.
Matiki went through J4Y training at Thanthwe Farm in Lilongwe.
The knowledge he acquired through the programme enabled him to register a business under the name Smart Sprouts, which is operating in Traditional Authority Kalolo in Lilongwe.
“I am now able to secure markets for my produce at supermarkets and restaurants.
“I have also expanded my business into growing bananas, pineapples and various vegetables,” says Matiki who also boasts of having employed one permanent worker and nine temporary labourers.
Scores of young people who lack entrepreneurial skills are now finding opportunities to nurture and develop new skill sets through various institutions engaged by the J4Y programme.
Thanthwe Farm Enterprises in Lilongwe is one of the host incubators for J4Y that are empowering the youth with agribusiness skills.
Managing Director Ngabaghila Chatata says her farm has so far hosted 212 incubates.
Over 30 percent of these incubates are now well established in agribusiness while the rest are in the process of getting there, according to Chatata.
“Most incubates have embraced the concept of self-employment through agribusiness and it is encouraging to see many youths motivated to take this route,” she says.
Chatata believes that the J4Y programme will help increase the success rate of youth enterprises.
J4Y, which started in August 2017, is expected to create 17,000 jobs and 6,000 youth owned enterprises in Malawi by the end of its six-year term in 2022.
“Looking at the number of youths who have already benefited from the programme, we can say it is meeting its goal of empowering young people with entrepreneurial skills,” says Principal Secretary in the Ministry of Youth, Olive Kumbambe.
And young people such as Phiri are being empowered to dream big.
“I want to grow my piggery business to be a huge enterprise that can consistently supply pork to major chain stores here in Malawi,” she says.
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