Kgalagadi North Member of Parliament Itumeleng Moipisi on Friday tabled a motion calling for the Citizen Entrepreneurial Development Agency (CEDA) Young Farmers Fund (YFF) to be transformed into a Youth Entrepreneurship Fund so as to broaden its scope and accommodate other important sectors that have been left out.
The CEDA-YFF was introduced eight years ago to provide young Batswana with entrepreneurial training so as to enable them to engage in sustainable agricultural activities, better equipped with the requisite skills for managing farming businesses. After realising that the youth dominate Botswana’s population, government introduced CEDA-YFF to reverse challenges such as poverty, unemployment, rural-urban migration and low participation of youth in agriculture. Eight years later, Moipisi feels the CEDA-YFF has reached its sell-by date and should be revamped to accommodate other sectors of the economy.
“In its current form the program appears to sideline other important sectors as it is only confined to farming. Sectors such as tourism and Information Communication Technology (ICT) are important sectors and they can drive the national economy forward, with the latter today being the engine of growth in every economy around the world,” he said.
He added that the issue should be taken seriously as youth development and empowerment are key priority areas for government in its drive to reduce youth unemployment and poverty.
“By transforming CEDA-YFF into the Youth Entrepreneurship Fund we will be supporting efforts to tackle youth unemployment,” said Moipisi.
He further said the escalating rate of youth unemployment does not augur well for the country as the youth make up the majority of the population. Against this backdrop, Moipisi sees the Youth Entrepreneurship Fund as a window of opportunity that will broaden CEDA-YFF to accommodate other sectors such as ICT, tourism, entertainment, tailoring and leather works.
“Let’s take an example of ICT. Botswana is ranked among the top five in Africa in terms of ICT development. Issues considered for ranking countries are ICT access, usage and skills. The ICT portfolio will absorb a maze of youth with ICT skills, particularly young women who come from tertiary institutions and find it difficult to penetrate the market,” he said.
Currently, 1081 out of 5934 ICT interns are women. Also, women have not benefitted much from CEDA-YFF particularly since they seem not to be interested in farming.
“This is the right time to broaden the scope of CEDA-YFF to make it attractive to females,” Moipisi said.
To buttress his debate, Moipisi cited another example, this time around focusing on manual work such as bricklaying, carpentry, tailoring and upholstery. He said inmates at the department of Prisons and Rehabilitation will benefit from the envisaged Youth Entrepreneurship Fund.
“There are also newly introduced skills such as hair dressing, massage, manicure and pedicure which are attractive to female inmates,” he said.
In the end, parliament endorsed Moipisi’s motion, though with some reluctance from opposition legislators. When contributing to the debate on Friday, Molepolole South MP, Mahommed Khan said he was reluctant to support the motion as the CEDA-YFF was a noble initiative that has been delivering on its mandate to promote food sustainability and security in the country.
“The CEDA-YFF has been working well and I don’t understand why this government wants to come up with yet another program while we are still waiting to enjoy the full results of this program. Maybe we should just revamp the existing program instead of coming up with a new one,” he said.
Khan said he was skeptical with the idea of coming up with a new program as that would dilute the mandate of the CEDA-YFF, which is to promote food security and sustainability in the country.
“We need farms for self-sufficiency in food production,” said Khan.
“The reality is that CEDA-YFF has been gaining momentum amongst the youth and we have been seeing a lot of transformation. With these unnecessary changes we are bound to disturb this transformation and demoralize the youth. We should not disturb the momentum for food prosperity and reverse the gains made in stemming the tide of youth migration to urban areas.”
Gaborone North MP, Haskins Nkaigwa shared the same sentiments and advised the ruling party to examine the successes and failures of CEDA-YFF before pulling the plug on it.
“The solution cannot be entrepreneurship, but accessibility to the Fund,” he said.
Nkaigwa added that the Youth Entrepreneurship Fund will be a waste of time because there are no structures to support it.
“We don’t even have developmental programs for starters. I say the CEDA-YFF is still relevant. Clearly you have run out of ideas and you are destroying a good thing,” he said.
However, the opposition party MPs sentiments were quashed by Minister of Defense, Justice and Security Shaw Kgathi who said the CEDA-YFF was not adequately addressing the plight of the youth as it was exclusive.
“There are other young people who are excluded by the CEDA-YFF. We in the BDP are here to protect and implement the interest and wishes of our voters,” said Kgathi.
He was supported by Assistant Minister of Education Moisaraela Goya and Assistant Minister of Agriculture Fidelis Molao, who said implementation of the Youth Entrepreneurship Fund must be fast tracked if the motion sails through.