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Young people grabbing joblessness by the horns

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As unemployment bites and the youth become hopeless, a team of four young entrepreneurs in Thyolo has developed a thriving business based on renewable energy.

Aged between 21 and 34, Kingsley Michael, Anne Guzani, Emily Kumsonga and Esmy Kaipa are being assisted by the Smart Energy Hub initiative of Renew’N’Able Malawi (Renama), a Malawian non-governmental organisation.

The initiative has empowered young people to provide services in remote rural areas using solar electricity generation in order to earn income and improve livelihoods.

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With no household connected to the national grid in their area, the group saw the opportunity to use a small building and install three solar panels with a combined capacity of 240 watts. Power generated at the ‘Gunde Smart Energy Hub’ is used to offer four services: cell phone charging; rechargeable flash light rentals; a barber shop with electric razors; and a small movie theatre. Financial support has come from the West Fife Rotary (UK) and the Rotary Club Limbe, routed through Renama.

And sales have been brisk, with the Gunde hub, the first of its kind in Malawi, now charging 200 phones and providing 75 haircuts each week. The movie theatre has also proved popular, with four screenings bringing in an average of 90 customers per day. Customers can have their phones charged for K50, while haircuts cost between K100 and K200. Ticket prices for the movie theatre cost K30, with the group generating in total around K100, 000 per month after just seven months of operation.

Currently, the group estimates they are helping to serve the needs of around 500 people in the community and already have plans for expansion, including a more spacious and secure building from where they can offer more services.

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“We have been making savings with our bank over the last few months, “says Esimy Kaipa, the chairlady of the group adding,

“Our expansion will be determined by the level of revenue we are generating from the services we are offering at the moment.”

The group also has other plans for income generation, including making doughnuts to sell at their film screenings.

“Unlike agriculture which depends on the rains coming, this business is not time related,” says Kaipa. “People charge their phones and lamps on a daily basis, so it is a business that is viable throughout the year.”

She can also see the potential for expansion, with people in rural areas increasingly looking to solar power to meet their energy needs, especially for mobile communication, with mobile phones used to access weather data and market information and to send and receive money.

As an economically sustainable, climate-smart intervention that engages youth, the smart energy hub initiative is proving a successful model to diversify employment options and potentially create a multiplier effect in rural communities that have previously been prone to the vagaries of the weather and seasonal income.

Renama intends to extend its reach to new sites once suitable premises have been identified, in order to reduce distances for accessing energy among communities not connected to the national grid.

Away in Nkhata Bay, another group calling itself Young Women Can Do It (Ywcdi) is similarly defeating unemployment. Ywcdi’s Chairlady Catherine Mkandawire says being a resident of a remote area like Nkhata Bay is not a barrier on the part of youth to showcase their potential.

She explains it is the duty of the young generation to use every available resource present in their vicinity to their advantage.

“As you can see this area is blessed with lots of vegetative cover. We have now embarked on bee keeping as one intervention that can help to bring revenue for us. We are optimistic of more revenue from honey sales considering the product is on high demand in urban areas and that can be easily exported to regional markets,” says Mkandawire.

Ywcdi is a platform imparting vocational skills in youths in Nkhokoma area. Its mission is to act as a change agent among the youth especially in the community they operate so that they are able to stand on their own. This, Mkandawire says, says will reduce the high unemployment rate and make the youth self reliant.

One of the initiative that they have been working on is the fish pond where they are stocking tilapia fish. Ywcdi hopes that rearing fish will provide the much needed protein for the surrounding communities in the area. This means that the local resident’s nutritional status will be enhanced as a food security intervention.

According to Mkandawire they are planning to increase the number of ponds so that more fish harvests are realised and this in turn means more revenue.

“As you can see this area is hilly hence travelling to access social amenities is a challenge especially to those that are physically challenged. By producing more protein-rich foods here, it means we have addressed the problem of locals travelling long distances to access fish,” says Mkandawire who leads a group of 40 young people, 22 of which are girls.

Wells Singini is Dean of the Faculty of Science at Mzuzu University and a consultant for the New Partnership for African Development Rural Future Programmes says there are gaps, limitations, opportunities and entry points in integrating entrepreneurship into existing systems.

Despite having substantial government and donor-funded support towards capacity in the agriculture sector, there are still capacity gaps and institutional weaknesses.

He says the problem with most of previous institutional development and capacity building support has been lack of coordination and weak linkages with strategic sector objectives.

“Skills shortages exist in both the private and public sector and in both rural and urban contexts limiting productive capacity, especially in higher value production chains. In the case of micro, small and medium enterprises the skills gap is enormous,” says Singini who did a study on gaps in the Nepad rural futures programmes.

However Singini is optimistic. There are opportunities and entry points in integrating entrepreneurship into existing systems. Among other opportunities are the current youth interests in agriculture.

“The other opportunity is that Malawi agriculture sector value chains has untapped potential, able to provide more employment and investment opportunities to the majority of unemployed youth living in the rural areas.

“For instance, diversification into other areas of agriculture including livestock, bee-keeping and aquaculture, and promotion of irrigation farming could engage the youth full time in the sector and open up new market opportunities during off season,” said Singini in an interview during a rural development conference recently.

At regional level synergies are being developed to ensure that various institutions speak the same language in as far job creation and entrepreneurship is concerned.

The Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) as a key partner supports several projects on value chain and agribusiness development. Its’ rural infrastructure and agro-industries division supports inclusive value chain and agribusiness development through policy support, capacity development and institutional strengthening of value chain actors.

FAO Senior Policy Officer, Koffi Amegbeto, based at the Regional Office for Africa said the Africa Solidarity Trust Fund is a recently launched multi-country programme on youth employment in East and West Africa, while a third programme is geared towards supporting the Nepad Planning Agency’s rural futures programme.

“The programme aims to promote decent rural youth employment and entrepreneurship in agriculture and agribusiness in four countries namely; Benin, Cameroon, Malawi and Niger,” says Amegbeto in a recent interview.

Rural young women and men have greater opportunities for entrepreneurship and enterprise development opportunities and access to decent farm and non-farm employment.

The programme contributes to two indicators in the Malabo Declaration that to create job opportunities for at least 30 per cent of the youth in agricultural value chains; to support and facilitate preferential entry and participation for women and youth in gainful and attractive agri-business opportunities

Nepad Planning Coordinating Agency as the technical, coordinating and development agency of the African Union, is providing unique opportunities for African countries to take full control of their development agenda, to work more closely together, and to cooperate more effectively with international partners

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