“I have been raising pigs for five years with my parents just like any other ordinary farmer in Malawi, but my four years of undergraduate education has fuelled my interest in pig business; I am going commercial”, William Chimtenga, a passionate young final year student and agro-entrepreneur at Lilongwe University of Agriculture and Natural Resources (LUANAR) said.
This is one of the expressions from many of the young and qualified livestock entrepreneurs or “live-entrepreneurs” in short. Indeed long talk is over, for once “let’s go commercial”. Interviewing few young live-entrepreneurs and graduate students; and appreciating results from other projects, there is a clear picture of on-going revolution among young live-entrepreneurs in Malawi.
Initially, let me indicate that livestock contributes about 8 percent of Gross Domestic Product in Malawi and has potential to grow beyond that. The livestock sector in Malawi as in other African countries is characterised by dominance of smallholder farmers (80 percent) engaged in low input and low output subsistence farming. Majority of these farmers reside in rural areas and raising cattle, goats, pigs, chicken and other livestock species is part of their culture.
The young live-entrepreneurs are however breaking the ground to showcase that every culture can become a profitable venture; agriculture implies agribusiness. Considering that the country’s median age is of about 17 and that the 75 percent of the country’s population is under the age of 30, review Malawi’s richness in human resource. Taziona Mchira of Farmers Forum for Trade and Social Justice (FAFOTRAJ), a Non-Governmental Organization and a young agro-entrepreneur narrated that increase in number of young professionals’ represent a vast human resource potential, which, if properly nurtured and tapped can contribute positively to national development.
However, it a surprise that in the abundance of productive population some key sectors such as livestock have been static and it is despite the commendable investments by Government and developmental practitioners in the past decade. What could be the missing link, one may ask.
In the livestock sector, it appears that the previous efforts have been focusing on a small population (the senior citizens or elderly) which is economically, technically and physically sub-optimal to uncover the sector’s huge potential. By not supporting the cadre of youth graduates like William Chimtenga and others to demonstrate their entrepreneurial stamina it is inevitably killing the fulcrum of sustainable development.
Talking to Arnold Nthala, the president for Bunda College Animal Science Student’s Organisation (BASSO) at LUANAR in Malawi, he pointed out that since 2008 their organisation has been in livestock business mainly to gain hands-on experience and as an income generating activity. “BASSO has ever raised broilers, beef cattle and since July 2013 we started goat production with an initial investment capital of about USD500. This year we are revamping the broiler production business but now as a parallel enterprise”, Arnold Nthala said.
While it might be misleading to conclude that involvement in such livestock business initiatives while in college implies probable continuity after graduating, Arnold Nthala commented that his colleagues - 7 in total - have their livestock business plan in pipe-line. Further, it was learnt that among the 22 students to graduate in 2014 with speciality in Animal Science, three of them are actively involved in raising poultry and pigs at family level. Though it can be argued that these young live-entrepreneurs were entirely influenced by their programme of study but learning from a four year period Bunda Flanders International Cooperation Agency (FICA) project, the young professionals’ interest in livestock cut across fields. FICA project final report showed that the project supported five livestock related businesses which were entirely proposed and implemented by students from different fields including Agribusiness Management.
Clearly, this demonstrated the passion that the youth live-entrepreneurs have in building their capacity and improving their livelihoods through livestock business. However, this calls for tailor made mechanisms within the initiatives in form of grants and competitions for instance to monitor and enhance capacity building of these youth professionals to guarantee their sustainable participation in productive livestock ventures before and after graduating. Thus, programmes aimed at nurturing the passion the young live-entrepreneurs already have is the best way to ensure growth of the livestock sector. Such programmes have started to emerge though in small and uncoordinated manner. For instance, the Farm Income Diversification Program (FIDP) funded by Government of Malawi and European Union (EU) has recognised the potential of young livestock professionals and since 2012 has supported five young graduates through a grant to start a pig abattoir.
It’s worthy to note that many young professionals’ have been side-lined in national developments because there is a strong misconception that agricultural activities are for the elderly and this misconception has been institutionalized; consequently most initiatives target adults. In the end, it creates a huge developmental gap and deprive young people the opportunity to develop and create their own wealth for instance through livestock business. This result in shifting young people focus to other relatively small sectors which just manage to absorb a few of them while leaving the rest unemployed and putting dependency pressure within their homesteads. This situation is likely to reverse if other developmental practitioners could follow FIDP foot-steps in supporting young energetic and technically competent agro-entrepreneurs.
“If you eat meat, aren’t you a vegetarian also? The animal already had some vegetables for you.” Anonymous.
Picture credit: Sias van Schalkwyk - African Warthog - (Not a Bush-pig) various close ups of head , Tusks & Eye