Mongu — Ivy Nyambe Inonge, 35, is the treasurer of Mbeta Island Integrated Fish Farm in Senanga district. Her group won the first prize in Zambia under the Cultivate Africa's Future (CultiAF) Expanding Business Opportunities for African Youth in Agricultural Value Chains in Southern Africa. She is excited at the prospect of what 5,000 dollars can do for her group, and ultimately, the whole community of Mbeta Island.
"As women, we endure the most burden on behalf of the family," she says. "That's why we are excited at this opportunity availed to us, firstly through participatory research in fish processing methods, and now business grants."
By research and business grants, Inonge refers to a symbiotic relationship between the CultiAF research project focusing on post-harvest processing of fish to reduce losses and its complimenting agribusiness component seeking to generate and test novel, creative and bold business models in the fish value chain.
The two projects are jointly funded by Canada's International Development Research Centre (IDRC) and the Australian Centre for International Agriculture Research (ACIAR) and implemented by the Department of Fisheries and the Africa Entrepreneurship Hub (AEH), respectively.
According to the group's winning proposal, they want to turn the 60,000 fingering capacity Malengaula lagoon on the island into a fish pond, and integrate it with livestock and vegetable production. The idea is to have an uninterrupted source of income, which is not the case at the moment due to a number of reasons.
Apart from the annual ninety days statutory fish ban, dwindling fish stocks in the Zambezi River due to climatic changes such as drought and inappropriate fishing methods persist, requiring alternative approaches as described above. Inonge believes their decision to move into fish farming integrated with crops and livestock "is an opportunity to develop a reliable source of income and a platform to become our own bosses."
The youth and women dichotomy
Africa is the youngest region in the world. Youth make up more than two thirds of Africa's population, yet they are more likely than adults to be unemployed. The story of women is well documented with global statistics estimating that they are responsible for more than 50 percent of food production worldwide. In Africa, the figure is higher, at 80 percent, according to the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO).
However, while agriculture is said to hold the greatest potential for global transformation to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), a key constituency - youth and women - are conspicuously missing in the processes. This problem is particularly acute in developing countries like Zambia where they face limited access to financial resources hindering their potential for upward mobility, skills and experience to run successful businesses.
This contrast has brought about renewed interest in interconnected ways to meet not only the growing global food demands, but also poverty eradication. One innovative way recommended is agribusiness value chains to stimulate youth and women participation in agriculture and harness an increasingly educated and entrepreneurial workforce to drive growth and create jobs.
In terms of policy, African countries have it all covered. The Comprehensive Africa Agriculture Development Programme (CAADP) - an Africa-wide agriculture-led development plan - is one such robust blueprint with a strong component on youth and women's participation.
According to Estherine Fotabong, Director of Programme Implementation and Coordination at the African Union's technical Agency, NEPAD, CAADP remains an inclusive initiative providing the drive to address food and nutrition insecurity, as well as unemployment, particularly of youth and women, through access to markets and opportunities to expand agribusiness.
And the CultiAF Expanding Agribusiness value chains in Southern Africa, could be putting to reality this CAADP goal. "The main objective is to increase youth participation in the Agribusiness value chain through creative ideas," explains Dr. Jonathan Tambatamba, Coordinator of the project. "The idea is to develop ways that will help youth get attracted into agriculture and stop seeing it as a profession for the retired."
With a core team of international, national and local partners established to support emerging entrepreneurs, the process has advanced and now at entrepreneurship training and mentorship stage.
"For Zambia, we picked ten finalists from which five emerged as winners of the business grants of varying amounts," Tambatamba told IPS. "For the first prize winners, they will receive 5,000 dollars for their project."
Leadership commitment and Investment
Expert analysis points out that for developing economies to cut poverty and create meaningful jobs, particularly for youths and women, they require political will from leaders and colossal sums of investment in agriculture, which interestingly, is the basis of the CAADP compact. Tambatamba agrees with this assertion.
"We were impressed with a lot of ideas that came through," he said, citing the winning proposal whose integrated approach in re-using water between fish farming and vegetable production fits well with this year's theme of World Water Day - Why Waste Water? which focuses on reducing and reusing wastewater. Considering the extra importance of water for the fishing communities, Tambatamba believes serious investment is required to support such "brilliant ideas."
Granted that cash capital is important in Agribusiness, entrepreneurship pundits argue for mindset change as a starting point. According to Mawila Fututu of Future Search, a Zambian Public Service Management Division (PSMD) entrepreneurship development project, "Even if you have the fish, the nets and the money; if your mindset is poor, you will still drift back into poverty."
The onus therefore is on the people involved in the two projects to take advantage and maximize on the opportunity provided to diversify.
"I am excited to have been exposed to this project and my appeal to fellow women and youth is that we should rise and decide our own destiny," says Lina Mahamba, one of the few people already engaged in aquaculture. The 31-year-old, who lives a stone's throw away from the Zambezi river, adds that she was motivated to construct fish ponds to fill the market vacuum created during the annual statutory ban.
To sum it up, there is global consensus that the challenge is huge but not insurmountable if women and youth are carried along. In the words of former United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon: "The energy of youth can spark economies," while African Development Bank's Akinwumi Adesina believes that "when we solve the problem of women, we will address most of the problems facing us in terms of inclusive growth."