AfDB and COMESA Review Role of SMEs in Easing Young Jobless Rate

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The African Development Bank’s (AfDB) resident representative in Zimbabwe, Freddie Kwesiga, and the secretary general of the Common Market for Eastern and Southern Africa (COMESA), Sindiso Ngwenya, conferred last week on how to ease the daunting problem of youth unemployment through working with small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs).

The opinion is that SMEs need to be segmented and COMESA is already working on five clusters which include agro processing. This process entails dealing with cassava to add value and increase productivity, taking into consideration that 1,200 farmers in Zambia produce only 13,200 tons of cassava. This low productivity could be increased to nearly 10 tons per hectare, which is the yield achieved in Indonesia and Brazil.

Mr Ngwenya called on the AfDB to take advantage of the grant offered to the CGIAR amounting to USD 63 million to help countries in Africa increase cassava productivity using technologies like the Mukabite system in Indonesia. This would allow for higher levels of productivity so that Africa could save on the large amounts of starch it imports every year, and work with countries that have high demand for starch like China and India.

Another cluster of importance is footwear.  COMESA is working with the International Labour Organisation (ILO) to improve training for the production of shoes in the region. COMESA is also working on garments and textiles to enhance quality in order to facilitate the supply of these products to the Canadian and Chinese markets, and also to help African countries in the production of uniforms for schools, nurses, police and the army as opposed to importing them.

Mr Ngwenya also called on the AfDB to support these initiatives and encouraged the Bank to work more with COMESA, UNIDO and ILO to develop models that empower the people, especially youth.

Noting that development must begin and end with the people and in our case the youth, he would like to see the Bank play a bigger role in extending Lines of Credit to commercial banks and guarantee funds for SMEs to help equip young people with skills that are relevant and appropriate to the economies of African countries.