THERE is a misconception among many youths that the only way out of poverty is through white-collar jobs.
When they graduate in various fields of study, many youths devote most of their time and energy to job hunting. And when they fail to find jobs because of the market constraints, they curl themselves in cocoons of frustration.
Many youths have struggled to identify and utilise the many opportunities presented to them in form of empowerment funds and other such initiatives.
Government has been working tirelessly to empower youths through various initiatives. One such initiative is the Youth Empowerment Fund, through which youths with viable project proposals are given funding as capital for their ventures.
Needless to say, youths have also been part of the agenda under the Citizens Economic Empowerment Commission (CEEC), which provides funding for viable ventures, including start-ups.
In place, under the CEEC, is the US$29 million seed fund for the aquaculture sector, to which youths are also beneficiaries.
To ensure that youths have a fair share of the fund, Government has gone a step further to apportion a US$6 million aquaculture Seed Fund specifically for youths.
This comes a few weeks after Government announced a K30 million empowerment fund for artists.
The specific allocation of US$6 million is besides the fact that Government is already supporting 891 Zambian-owned projects valued at K169 million under Aquaculture Seed Fund, of which 39 percent are youths.
Government has further built capacity in 3,057 Zambians through skills training, of which 51 percent are youths.
A few years ago, Government also implemented an initiative through which it bought 64-seater buses for youths as a way of empowering them, among many other initiatives.
As rightly noted by Vice-President Inonge Wina yesterday, this is indeed evidence that Government has the interests of the youths at heart and has been working to empower them.
While Government has come up with a number of youth empowerment projects, it is saddening that many youths have failed to utilise them for the purpose for which these resources are availed.
It has been disappointing that most youths, after accessing funds on a loan basis, have failed to pay back. These are revolving funds which are supposed to be paid back for the benefit of others.
The idea is to jump-start businesses, and once these businesses are up and running, the money is paid back to help support other potentially viable ventures. This way, it is expected that more businesses will be established and spurred to viability, thereby contributing to a stronger economy.
Unfortunately, instead of looking at the empowerment funds as a ladder to be used to financial independence and wealth creation, many youths view this money as ‘Christmas bonuses’.
Youths need to understand that the empowerment funds provided to them come with responsibilities. Besides presenting good project proposals, they have an obligation to ensure that their ventures succeed. This takes a lot of hard work and financial discipline.
Youths need to step up and make good use of the US$6 million aquaculture fund Government has apportioned for them.
Zambia currently has a fish deficit of 87,000 metric tonnes. This is a golden opportunity for the youth to not only tap into the yawning aquaculture market but create wealth for themselves and for the betterment of the country.
Surely, there is no need for the country to continue losing money through imports of fish when the country has what it takes to produce enough fish.
The aquaculture value supply chain provides vast opportunities ranging from fish farming, fingerlings production, feed production, fish processing and value addition, and fish marketing.
This is a lucrative market which, if exploited by many youths, will not only lead to food security but job creation as well.
Youths should wake up to the fact that this is where the real wealth lies and not in salaried white-collar jobs.
It is good that Government has also provided for capacity building of youths who lack skills and knowledge in aquaculture as a business. This means that youths have no more excuses.
It is also hoped that those who have been charged with the responsibility to disburse these funds will do so in a fair and transparent way.
The funds should be given to those with good business proposals and with good track records.
There is need to thoroughly screen the applicants to ensure that money does not land in the hands of fraudsters. This is because the money must be paid back and keep revolving for the benefit of more youths and for greater impact.
The implementers should also guard against non-youths from accessing the fund. The money should only be accessed by intended beneficiaries, and these are people aged between 15 and 35.
As for now, we expect youths with a genuine desire to contribute to the economic fortunes of the country to step out and grab the opportunities presented before them.