ALVIN CHIINGA, Lusaka
PATRICIA Suntile of Manyumbi market along the Great North Road has traded at this roadside market for the past 15 years.
It has been business as usual. There has been no increase in her capital and profits over the years, making her to despair.
Her lifestyle as a marketeer and that of her siblings has never changed, and the story is the same with her colleagues at this market.
In Chief Chooma’s area in Southern Province, hundreds of marketeers have seen years pass without any remarkable change in their livelihoods.
This is despite them toiling from the wee hours of the morning to late hours in the evening.
Nothing has changed and this development is ‘choking’ them as they need financial assistance to jump-start their businesses.
There have been several promises by successive governments but they all turn out to be rhetoric.
In Luanshya’s Mpatamatu area on the Copperbelt, the agitation is the same as several marketeers’ livelihoods have never changed.
Several other marketeers around the country experience the same problem of stagnation in making profits and expansion of their businesses.
President Lungu realised that there are several marketeers who are experiencing a lot of problems countrywide and had to act.
In 2015, he introduced the Presidential Marketeers Empowerment Fund, and now results have started to show in areas where the fund is operational.
President Lungu introduced the empowerment initiative as a means of fighting household poverty.
It is aimed at helping vulnerable micro and small-scale entrepreneurs such as market and street vendors who cannot access loans from banks and microfinancing companies to grow their businesses and increase their incomes.
Last year, President Lungu donated 10 percent of his monthly salary to the fund.
The fund’s national coordinator Clement Tembo said President Lungu has set a good example by allocating part of his monthly salary to funding the marketeers’ initiative, which is aimed at helping street and market traders.
True to his word, the fund is slowly making a difference. Those that have accessed it are already enjoying the benefits.
“Our lives have changed tremendously after the loans that we have got from the Presidential Empowerment Initiative Fund (PEIF),” Ms Suntile said.
Ms Suntile said the K70,000 that PEIF gave in loans at the Manyumbi market in the first week of this month will boost several businesses.
She is overwhelmed just like many other marketeers at the market.
In Choma district, hundreds of marketeers have also been empowered through the PEIF, which now has well-established structures for easy disbursement.
Miriam Nkolola of Chief Chooma’s area, with a smile, recently flashed several K100 notes that were given to her in form of a loan.
She has since invested the money in buying more tomatoes from the nearby commercial farm and hopes she will double her profits in a few months’ time.
“We thank President Lungu for making us benefit from the fund. This shows that he is a President for everyone as we thought that this initiative is meant for some particular provinces,” she said when the PEIF team visited her area recently.
The story is the same in Luanshya’s Mpatamatu area as several marketeers have started receiving soft loans from PEIF.
“The dream is big as President Lungu wants to leave a legacy. We have done four provinces, namely Copperbelt, Central, Eastern and Southern,” Mr Tembo said in an interview.
The fund has been disbursed to over 10,000 marketeers, vendors and other vulnerable groups that are targeted by PEIF.
Mr Tembo laughed off critics who had said the fund was a political tool to woo votes in the 2016 general elections.
“If this was a political tool, why is it still in place and why have we even gone to areas where President Lungu didn’t perform well in the last elections?” Mr Tembo said.
He said President Lungu has the vulnerable, such as marketeers, at heart and will do everything to uplift their livelihoods despite some negative sentiments from armchair critics.
PEIF has since come up with a well-established criteria in as far as disbursing of funds is concerned and is working with local government and traditional leaders in the areas where they have set offices.
“We have started working with traditional leadership as this fund is not politically inclined. House of Chiefs chairperson, Chief Ngabwe, and PEIF will be drawing a programme towards this,” he said.
Mr Tembo says the administrative officers of the fund in the provinces are youths and this has also contributed to employment creation.
He said the PEIF is also targeting marketeers who are not found in conventional markets such as those trading on highways.
Mr Tembo said 1,200 people have been targeted for empowerment before the end of this year. About 300 marketeers from Great North Road, another 300 on the Great East Road, and 600 from both along the Lusaka-Livingstone and Lusaka-Mongu Road will benefit.
He said it is interesting that the repayment record for those that have been given the loan is impressive.
Mr Tembo has said PEIF will be in North-Western Province before the end of this year to ensure that more people benefit.
He said by the end of 2018, the disbursement of the fund will be spread to all the provinces, and by 2019, the fund will have reached all the districts.
PEIF fund manager Samuel Luneta said the 2020 target of reaching 17,000 beneficiaries of the fund will be surpassed because of the demand.
Mr Luneta said though the loan amounts might be deemed small by some people, a lot of the beneficiaries say it is changing their lives so far.
He said since the fund is not politically inclined, Zambian marketeers should get to the PEIF offices and start the application process.
Mr Luneta is optimistic that the fund will spread to all the corners of the country.