Fading allure of fishing reinforces calls for alternative pathways to combat youth unemployment amid rapid population growth. JAMES CHAVULA writes.
He is one of hundreds of young Malawians increasingly venturing into the endangered trade to escape from the high youth unemployment affecting the country.
“The catch is getting smaller. To get anything worthwhile, we have to get in the waters as early as 6.30pm and sometimes toil all night until 5am,” he said.
Such is the routine on the shoreline of the island with no vocational training centre and limited job opportunities that most boys join the fishing profession.
To get higher education and decent jobs, the children of the island have to make a ship voyage to the mainland where the openings are more abundant.
As he stitched twine in a gaping hole, the teenager urged government to come up with strategies that would increase the youth’s chances in life regardless of the geography of their locality.
This is the cry of young citizens, the largest age-bracket on the continent.
The country is not exempted from the booming youthful population.
With a typical Malawian likely to have no less than five children in a lifetime, official figures show 54 in 100 Malawians are below age 18 while up to 70 of them are below 30.
Population experts recommend greater investment in efforts aimed at liberating the youth from depending on ageing guardians to turn them into engineers for economic growth.
Called demographic dividend, the term describes long-term economic benefits that arise from sustained investment in health, education, skills development, job creation and policies to increase the number of productive working-age adults.
“Access to quality education offers a vital step towards reaping the demographic dividend,” UNFPA population and development specialist Bill Chanza says.
The United Nations official reckons ballooning youth population is the more reason government must enhance investment in secondary and higher education to develop well-educated, skilled, innovative and productive citizens.
Chanza also spoke of sound economic reforms and development of infrastructure for job creation. The creation of jobs and an enterprising labour force begins with uncompromised basic education.
Education is not off to a good start for learners in the island district’s 10 primary schools and two secondary schools where teaching and learning materials seldom come. The pupils in need of money often have to do without classes as most teachers take the ship to the mainland where banks are located. The children of the lake shun classes in preference for income generating activities in fishing spots.
Recently, district commissioner Charles Mwawembe told Deputy Minister of Education, Science and Technology Vincent Ghambi: “The main challenge is that the learners prefer fishing to education, something that calls for strategies to keep them in school where they belong.”
The newly amended Education Act makes basic education compulsory.
However, Ghambi states: “The problem is lack of enforcement. The law does not provide for it.
“So government counts on the involvement of parents in supporting teachers to ensure children stay in school all the time.”
But relying on parents’ willingness to take part is a needless make-or-break tie.
Most of them do not value education and they push boys to follow them to the lake, says village head Chamba.
“Our lives revolve around fishing. The more hands you have at your disposal the better. Besides forcing boys out of school, some find it fashionable to have more children to help with fishing duties,” says the village head.
He is a community sexual reproductive health advocate trained by Evangelical Association of Malawi, which is working with traditional and religious leaders to achieve the desired transition in terms of fertility rates, family planning, child survival and keeping learners in school to delay marriage and childbearing.
Also lured out of school by the aroma of money from fishing are secondary school learners.
The absence of higher education and skills development centres leaves them with difficult options to learn fishing while they are still young or to migrate to the mainland where universities, technical colleges and vocational training centres are situated.
The island, with glaring unmet demand for skill development, was not among 11 districts that President Peter Mutharika’s promised community colleges opened this year, but Minister of Labour, Youth and Manpower Development Henry Mussa says it will be served before the current financial year ends in June next year.
Meanwhile, youth from poor households find themselves under-employed by migrants who dominate the fishing industry on Chizumulu and Likoma islands. There is an increasing number of fishers and fishing gear from Nkhotakota, Nkhata Bay, Karonga and Salima on the shore. The unemployed youths are consigned to menial jobs such as mending and casting the nets.
Unfortunately, the industry is struggling with depletion of fish in Lake Malawi estimated at 90 percent in the past decade. The Department of Fisheries attributes this to overfishing, lowering water levels, use of inappropriate fishing equipment and increasing number of fishers.
For DC Mwawembe, all this points to rapid population growth.
“The increase in number of fishers and fishing gear starts in homes. There is need for awareness to ensure families have the number of children they can take care of,” Mwawembe says. n