Thursday, May 6, 2021

Young Farmers Fund is still relevant, but useless

This week, the Citizen Entrepreneurial Development Agency (CEDA)’s Young Farmers Fund (YFF) was once again brought under scrutiny, following a motion by Kgalagadi North Member of Parliament Itumeleng Moipisi calling for the 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.

What put the YFF on the spotlight was the decision by some members of parliament to question its future as they believe that it faces collapse since most of the youth seem not to appreciate it much. The CEDA Young Farmers Fund was established more than seven years ago but it has since become clear that not every youth is enthusiastic about it. Despite government pumping millions into the Fund, it has emerged that a lot of young farmers have not embraced it as vigorously as we or the initiators anticipated.

In actual fact, some of the unemployed youth including university graduates seem to prefer loitering in cafes and bars as waitress rather than venturing into the labour intensive agriculture sector. Available figures (official) do show that the agricultural sector’s contribution to national Gross Domestic Product has shrunk from over 60 percent at independence to just under three percent to date. At the same time, although agriculture is still one of the major employing sectors in the country, its contribution has been substituted by the mining sector, especially the diamond industry, which contributes 40 percent to GDP and over 55 percent to public funds.

As a result, the youth, particularly those who are unemployed are clearly uninterested in the agriculture sector leaves our country caught in a web of contradictory statements concerning food security in the country, attempts to diversify the economy and most importantly job creation. However, we cannot solely blame the youth for their lack of drive to venture into agriculture. Perhaps the Botswana Congress Party was right in its agriculture policy published in 2009 to state that the programme is “faulty” on the basis that “it is not possible to have successful young farmers when there are no successful older farmers to mentor them.” From the government side there is no clear sign that it is helping or at least gearing up to provide the necessary technical assistance aimed at supporting those youth who desire to venture into this vital sector. It seems the government is still reluctant to direct more financial assistance to middle aged public workers to encourage them to leave the public service early as a way of paving way for the more energetic youth.

But like Moipisi correctly said on Friday, by transforming CEDA-YFF into the Youth Entrepreneurship Fund we will be supporting efforts to tackle youth unemployment. At the same time we will be helping other unemployed youth whose interest is in other vital sectors such as ICT and Tourism. There is no single doubt that these two sectors, ICT and Tourism can drive the domestic economy forward. Already statistics show that most unemployed youth are trained in these two sectors. As such it makes economic sense to consider funding those who want to start up businesses in these sectors. In as much as there is a need to push the country’s economic diversification ambitions and prop up agriculture as one of the national pillars of growth though programs such as YFF, the #Bottom-Line remain that not all our youth are interested in Agriculture. Therefore we must not limit them to one sector. Good as it is, YFF is useless if its intake is still low seven years after it was launched.

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