Some might set up their own farm and turn out to be successful agricultural entrepreneurs. Others might instead engage in agro-processing businesses and end up leading a profitable company. All of them will have acquired valuable technical agro-enterprise skills and become active participants in the economic development of their own country. Such is the rationale behind the agri-entrepreneurship training that the Ministry of Sports, Youth Development and Welfare (MoSYDW), with support from UNDP, organized for twelve Malawian youth at the Songhai Centre in Benin. The young trainees travelled to West Africa to undergo a practical-oriented training program, aimed to provide them with agri-entrepreneurial, leadership and management skills required for their participation in commercially viable agri-businesses.

Tackling Youth Unemployment

The initiative dates back to 2008 when the MoYDS (Ministry of Youth Development and Sports at that time) and UNDP Malawi agreed to implement the Integrated Youth Development Programme (IYDP). This was conceived within the framework of a regional program, a joint initiative promoted by a number of UN agencies including UNDP, FAO, IFAD, ILO and UNIDO in partnership with the Songhai Centre. The regional program framework intended to tackle youth unemployment by promoting agri-enterprise development in eleven countries in West, Eastern and Southern Africa including Benin, Burkina Faso, Cote d’Ivoire, Gabon, Ghana, Guinea, Kenya, Liberia, Sierra Leone, Togo and Malawi.

One of the main components of the regional program is the establishment of National Centres for Agri-Enterprise Development (NCAEDs) in the participating countries. Malawi is well on track to achieve this objective. In conjunction with this, the twelve Malawian youth -nine socio-economic leaders and three staff from the Neno centre- are being trained at the Songhai Centre for nine and four months respectively. The trainees were accompanied by a delegation including MoSYDW and UNDP officials and the manager of the Neno Centre, who also attended a two-week training on management of Agri-Enterprise Development Centres based on the model developed at Songhai.

During their training, the Malawian youth will gain practical experience in the production units established at Songhai (including aquaculture, animal livestock and crop production as well as agro-processing) and attend regular lectures on agri-entrepreneurship covering both technical and managerial skills. Their training will include two final months of specialization, during which the socio-economic leaders and the centre staff will both be expected to acquire advanced knowledge in their area of preference. Upon their return to Malawi they will have the crucial task of training their peers at the Youth Development Centre in Neno in order to ensure that the Songhai model is properly replicated.

Taking a Holistic Approach

The Songhai Centre developed a holistic approach to agri-business and entrepreneurship development that includes production, training, provision of support services (logistics, transportation etc.), access to credit and linkages to markets through networking of graduates. It was this integrated value chain system based on the zero-waste concept – the idea that the waste of each production unit is used as an input into other production units- that gained Songhai the title of Regional Centre of Excellence in West Africa, as well as an excellent international reputation and substantial support from several institutional donors. It is in this direction that the MoSYDW and UNDP intend to proceed with the training of the Malawian youth in Benin. Once construction work is finalized, the Neno Youth Development Centre is expected to establish itself as the Regional Centre of Excellence for Agribusiness and Entrepreneurship Development in Southern Africa.

Malawi Taking the Lead

Malawi is the only country from this part of the continent participating in the regional program framework, and the first sending trainees to the Songhai Centre from outside of West Africa.  With youth accounting for more than half of Malawi’s total population, but suffering from disproportionately high unemployment, this initiative represents at once both a unique opportunity and a heavy responsibility for a small country with huge development potential.

Author: Carmine Soprano is an impactfulAID Associate specializing in Trade Facilitation & Regional Integration, Women Economic Empowerment and Youth Employment & Entrepreneurship.

Image: Farm Africa, Malawi