At 16, Malizani Gatoni is proving to be a force to reckon with in farming. But it has not been a rosy ride.
Back in 2009 when his parents divorced, Malizani Gatoni and his two siblings felt like their whole world was shattered.
“My siblings and I were born and raised at Nsundwe in Lilongwe. But after our parents divorced, we went to live with our mother in Sikeleta Village, Traditional Authority [T/A] Mduwa in Mchinji,” says Malizani.
Being the first born child and aged about 10 when the parents divorced, Malizani’s biggest worry was how his mother could fend for him and his siblings on her own.
But today, he is an example that the youth can succeed in farming.
Save the Children International (SCI) in partnership with Creative Centre for Community Mobilisation (Creccom) and Youth Net and Counselling (Yoneco) is implementing Youth in Action (YiA) project in Mchinji, Ntchisi and Rumphi districts to improve the socioeconomic status of 9 060 vulnerable and out-of-school youths.
The project is being implemented with funding from MasterCard Foundation to the tune of $5.8 million (about K4.1 billion).
Through the project, the targeted youth receive assistance in form of technical and vocational training, education and enterprise development initiatives.
Recently, 3 833 out-of-school youths graduated in carpentry and joinery, bricklaying, tailoring and design, beauty and salon, construction, metal fabrication, tinsmith and electrical and renewable energy installation.
Malizani was one of the graduates. He dropped out of school in 2009, soon after his parents’ divorce due to poverty.
However, just when he thought luck had closed its doors on him, a task force set up by Save the Children International identified and enrolled Malizani into the YiA project in 2013.
“I was reluctant at first because I did not know the motive of the people behind the project. But after giving it a second thought, I accepted to be enrolled,” he says.
His instructor, who was present at the graduation ceremony, attests that Malizani was one of the brightest students in the carpentry and joinery class.
But when he was given a startup capital of K40 000 (about $59) last year, Malizani did not use the money to purchase carpentry and joinery tools.
“I took K20 000 and bought one bag of fertiliser and used the rest on seed, farm rentals and hiring labourers,” Gatoni explains.
His reason, he says, was a simple one; unlike carpentry and joinery, commercial farming is more lucrative nowadays than ever before.
“Thus, although I did a different course, I always cherish farming and I am happy that I am making a big mark in my village. My ambition is to become a commercial farmer,” Gatoni says.
SCI country director Matthew Pickard says a recent study conducted by his organisation shows that many youths are opting for agro-based enterprises as a definite and quicker measure to end their destitution.
However, Pickard notes that the youths are lacking access to training and education on farming and therefore, are not being encouraged to perceive agriculture as a future career.
“More and more young people are discovering agriculture and commercial farming as a profession.
“It is sad, however, that despite agriculture being the mainstay of Malawi’s economy and that there are many youths willing to venture into agro-based enterprises, government has not intensified the teaching and learning of agriculture in technical and vocational institutions,” he says.
Food, Agriculture and Natural Resources Policy Analysis Network (Fanrpan) notes that young men and women are critical to the development of agriculture and Africa needs to start tapping from its youthful population energy to achieve food security.
Fanrpan says sub-Saharan Africa has the world’s youngest population and is home to over 200 million young people.
“They are the future farmers, future policy makers, future leaders, future researchers and future drivers of Africa’s social and economic development,” notes Farpan.
Pickard says Malawi can grow its economy if government integrates young people in formal and informal agricultural production.
He says time has come for government to start encouraging the youth to consider agriculture as a profession.
“One way to do that is by coming up with an agriculture curriculum for technical and vocational schools,” tips Pickard. n