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Decent Rural Employment

Yapasa: Developing youth-led enterprises in rural areas of Zambia


FAO, ILO and the Zambian Government have worked together for the past 5 years to address youth employment issues through the USD7.6 million Yapasa Project, funded by the Government of Sweden. The intervention aims at facilitating the creation of sustainable employment opportunities for young women and men in rural areas of Zambia, through the promotion of sustainable micro, small and medium enterprises (MSME).

The Project has proven successful, creating and improving nearly 3,000 jobs for rural youth in Zambia, and improved the performance of over 5,000 youth-led rural enterprises. By doing so, Yapasa established innovative approaches to decent jobs creation for youth in the agribusiness sector in Zambia. In particular, it focused on collective actions in support of more sustainable MSME business practices, including cooperation between different value chains players and linking small growers to larger agribusinesses. The project initially focused on two value chains: soybeans and aquaculture, but later diversified into other value chains (i.e. horticulture).

It aso addressed the key market functions that constrained sector performance and youth participation, such as access to quality inputs, access to formal markets, skills development (technical and business), and creating awareness of agribusiness opportunities for youth, as well as stakeholder coordination to improve the enabling environments in which youth operate.

Bonolo Madito, Agribusiness Intern with the FAO South Africa Office, has interviewed for us Sworo Yopesi, FAO Youth Employment Expert and Yapasa Portfolio Manager, and Steve Morris, ILO Market Systems Development Specialist and Yapasa Project Leader.

The project has created and improved nearly 3,000 jobs for rural youth in Zambia, which in turn are expected to generate further direct and indirect employment opportunities. What were the success factors to achieve this result?

Sworo: We believed that working with various private sector players, leveraging their resources and promoting youth inclusive business models was important in reducing entry barriers for young people and it was proven. Above all, having the flexibility as a programme and a donor that allows innovation and change of strategies during implementation was paramount.

Impressive, can you share with us what was the biggest impact this project had on the livelihoods of the young beneficiaries?

Sworo: The beneficiaries have acquired skills to run their own enterprises, linked to various commercial players in the various value chains, creating the necessary networks for their businesses to grow. Of course this also comes with increased incomes.

Steve: I agree, although many have not reached sufficient levels to be equivalent to the Zambian minimum wage which, as sufficient return on labour, is an important element of "Decent Work." So we still have some work to do here.

Looking at all these people the YAPASA project changed lives, was there any beneficiary story that you found inspiring?

Sworo: Oh yes, quite a number! For example, there is this young farmer in Chongwe district, Francis Mkanda, now 28, who had never done fish farming before. However, having gone through a training and mentorship programme supported by Yapasa, the young man is now farming fish on 14 ponds and has teamed up with two other young people to establish a company that provides services in pond construction and distribution of fingerlings. He is also producing fingerlings for his own ponds and to service the surrounding farmers. He has further diversified into vegetables production, offering employment to two fellow youths. All this has happened in the last two years and is likely to expand in the near future.

Steve: There is also Evelyn Nkole, who became involved in soya outgrowing with Wind of Change Enterprises. She was shy and didn't see much future for herself, but after receiving technical and basic business training together with access to inputs on credit, she produced a good soya crop and her first harvest enabled her to repay her loan and pay some money into the bank as savings. She is featured in one of the TV series videos on our website and she talks so confidently now.

The project involved a lot of partners including UN agencies, government, private sector, support service providers and local communities. How was synergy ensured without losing the bigger picture?

Sworo: This is a joint project of the FAO and ILO: The two UN agencies brought in their comparative advantages that made the project work. The project took a facilitation approach that focused on building win-win commercial relationships between young agripreneurs and private businesses and is all driven by the incentives each market actor derives from the partnerships. The project also supported strong coordination between the various stakeholders to ensure alignment and shared objectives. The project collaborated with the Ministry of Youth and Sport, Ministry of Agriculture, and Ministry of Fisheries and Livestock.

Steve: Yes, Sworo, there were many stakeholders involved. That's why a key role of the project team was to maintain sight of the bigger picture. Since we were facilitators, we could step back and see potential linkages that would add value to the overall approach rather than getting bogged down in individual business relations, although I am not convinced all our partners are as altruistic to development of the overall market system as we would like to think. At the end of the day they have their own strategic interests and it’s their own bottom line that matters most to them. But I feel this is OK as long as we understand it.

The name Yapasa means, "the deal is done" in Nyanja and Bemba languages, the project also created an impressive website, www.yapasa.org, with many interesting information and lessons learned. How having clear communication strategy affected the project results?

Sworo: The need to develop a communication strategy was to share our experiences with the wider audience, customizing it to the various stakeholders including the youth, Government, development community, private sector players. The process of development started with identifying the different stakeholders and their information needs and then crafting the relevant tools and messages for each category. As a result, there is increased awareness of agribusiness opportunities by rural youth and appreciation of youth inclusive business models by different stakeholders.

Attracting youth into agriculture can be quite challenging, how did you make sure that the proposed businesses were attractive and suitable for them?

Sworo: Initially it was challenging because we had not fully understood what businesses would be attractive to youths but also their entry barriers. Through continuous interaction with more youths, we understood the unique features business opportunities that youths find interesting. Youth are generally attracted to businesses that require low investment capital, low skill entry barriers, quick turn over, a high degree of innovation and offer peer recognition.

There are several stakeholders out there trying to create jobs and attract youth into agribusinesses. What would you recommend as a person who came to the end of a successful project?

Steve: The challenge of youth employment in rural Africa is ever increasing. For the rural youth agriculture has a central role in creating opportunities for them. However, most youth in the rural areas have not fully appreciated the business potential in agriculture because of the way they have perceived subsistence agriculture being practiced by their elders.

Sworo: Yes this is it, so, to address rural youth employment issues, we need to do things a bit differently. First is to help youth appreciate entrepreneurial opportunities in agriculture through information campaigns including social media, mainstream media and peer to peer engagements. Secondly, engage youth in identifying which agribusiness opportunities might be right for them in light of their limitations, and thirdly research and calculate the profitability of the business models and demonstrate the validity of a triple bottom line that will attract businesses to invest in such youth inclusive rural agribusiness models.

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