The population of Kitwe like the rest of the country is predominantly young. Up to 70 percent of the population is below the age of 30.The age structure of Kitwe defines a young population with slightly over 66 percent of population below age of 25 years. The structure demands corresponding provision of social services such as schools, medical facilities, housing, recreation and other economic activities. Population increase has not been accompanied by development of basic infrastructure. However, the population for the district during business hours is about 700,000 because many people and business houses from other districts in the country and some countries conduct their trade in Kitwe.

The district has experienced the growth of the informal sector with people engaged in economic activities such as sand mining, charcoal production and illegal quarrying of slag dumps (A youth involved in quarrying of slug dumps is locally known as ‘Jeraboh’.) The district has about 159 learning institutions comprising both public and private. The number of high schools is however not sufficient to meet the demand for high school education. These are mainly situated in urban areas. According to Ministry of Education (MoE) records as of 2009 the district staffs were 2,905 of which 2,817 were teachers and 88 were non-teaching staff. However teaching staff are insufficient. In 2009, it was noted that there were more girls enrolled as compared to previous years. The increase in progression rates were also recorded from grade 7 to 8 of 49 percent to 69 percent. The increase in the progression rate can be attributed to the upgrading of schools from primary to basic .However, the upgrading of schools from primary to basic has its own challenges such as limited infrastructure, accommodation for teachers and competitive condition of service in private sector. Consequently, public schools have been disadvantaged and the quality of education has been negatively affected, contributing to the high dropout rate. The policy by MoE to increase the minimum number of students recommended per class to 63 has worsened the situation. Mining and mining related activities are the major economic activities .There is a number of shopping facilities including large and medium privately owned shops, professional services such as consultation are also available in the district. The growing number of illegal street vendors is at a rise due to the increasing number of people operating in undesignated places especially residential areas. There are also a number of hotels around the district.

Agriculture is one of the economic mainstays of the district. Most agricultural activities are rain fed and major crops grown include maize, ground nuts and vegetables. Urban backyard gardening and peri-urban farming crops such as groundnuts, maize, sweet potatoes and traditional vegetables are also practiced. There are farms including those for poultry, cattle and other animal husbandry, and fish farming. Three climate seasons prevail, hot and wet, hot and dry, cold and dry seasons. Average temperature is over 300C during day and range between 210 C and 260C during nights. The annual rainfall averages are 1,320mm. Energy sources include electricity, solar, bios and fossil fuels, charcoal and coal. Wood fuel in the form of firewood and charcoal is a major source of energy for most people. The increment of electricity tariffs by the only electricity supply company in the country and the introduction of prepaid bills, has led to the increase in the shift from the use of hydro electricity upon which most of the grid depend, to wood fuel.

Over the years, the district has evolved into an industrial centre for the province with core economic activities being mining. Besides mining and mining related activities, the district has light industrial areas for manufacturing building materials, furniture and consumer goods. It is connected to other towns by road and rail and to other destinations by air through the south down airstrip in kalulushi and Ndola airport as there is no airport in Kitwe.

Poverty levels are high due to the fact that the rate at which the population is growing exceeds the economic growth of the district. Consequently, majority of the total estimated district population resides in unplanned settlements. Due to the decline in the availability of formal wage employment, majority of residents in Kitwe work mainly in the informal sector.

Since August 2010, I have had a memorable, inspiring and challenging expedition around Kitwe district and its neighbouring districts, Kalulushi and Lufwanyama, which historically were once part of Kitwe district, and depend on Kitwe for most social and economic activities. My concentration or rather main interest has been in understanding the way of life for the youth in terms of education-primary and secondary, post secondary training, participation in politics and governance and other democratic processes, their social and economic integration into society, and more importantly their livelihood.

North of Kitwe, along Kitwe to Chingola Road is an interesting and busy suburb, Sabina, with a beautiful stream that provides water for agriculture and domestic use. The river has attracted the people of the suburb to live along it. The central business place of the suburb is the roadside, which has a ‘T’ branch of roads providing access to three different mining districts of the Copperbelt province of Zambia. It’s a busy business place with the main commodities being a variety of crops including carrots, maize, potatoes, vegetables, groundnuts, pumpkins, cassava, tomatoes, onion, and many other crops. Taking a walk along the river, I witnessed the dedicated invested of time and resources in the growing of a number of crops to earn a living. With 90 percent of the gardens along the stream cultivated by the youth, their produce is not only sold at the road side to the motorists and passengers, but also supplied to the three mining districts surrounding the suburb. Within the suburb are farms involved in poultry farming, animal husbandry, and growing of a few varieties of crops and these provide employment to many other youths and other residents. I had an opportunity to interact with the people of this suburb for about two weeks.

A few kilometres on the way to Mufurila district east of this suburb is another small but densely populated and youthful village,Salamano, surrounded by a mighty river, one of Zambia’s biggest rivers ‘Kafue’ and a seasonal stream. I had an opportunity to interact with the people of this suburb for about two weeks as well. Though surrounded by water sources and abundant land, the youthful suburb’s families cannot even manage to grow crops to feed themselves, instead depend on charcoal burning and beer brewing and some illegal activities to raise money to buy essential needs and food to feed their families. For the few who are dedicated, they grow tomatoes, onion, vegetables, pumpkins which they sale to motorists along the main road to the nearby district. This suburb has poor sanitary conditions and entirely depends on river water for domestic use.

From there, I headed to Kalulushi district, a small district branching from Kitwe. This is classified a rural district because most of its boundaries are typical rural with some of the roads being impassable during the rainy season. Upon arriving at the market, one can tell that they are in the land of subsistence farmers, a lot of bicycles packed around and farmers are busy displaying and selling their produce to the marketers. Some take advantage of light trucks owned by farmers who have farms near to them and use that to transport their produce even as far as Kitwe. Going beyond the district headquarters, I headed towards the Lufwanyama district bordering with the Democratic Republic of Congo. The recently, declared district is the home of a number of gemstone mines and many agricultural activities. The district is surrounded by rivers and seasonal streams providing people with water sources for domestic and agricultural use. Most of the land in the district is customary owned (controlled by local Chiefs), and the local people have obtained reasonable pieces of land as subordinates to the Chiefs. With this land they are free to grow different varieties of crops and conduct other farming activities. However, for other economic activities such as gemstone mining to be practiced, the Chief of the particular Chiefdom is supposed to be informed and permission has to be obtained from relevant government authorities. Subordinates of a particular chiefdom pay a certain contribution whenever a new chief is installed as a successor, for them to continue owning that farm and receive a paper from the Chief to signify their customary land ownership. On one of the land ownership letter I read, the reason was indicated as I Chief ……….. wish to maintain and extend your farm at ………….. to ensure that ‘You expand your farming activities and grow more crops’……..

In the swampy areas surrounding one of the villages I visited, crops are grown which are taken to the district headquarters for sale. Many people grow crops to feed their families and they sale the excess. The money raised from the sale of produce is used to buy essentials and pay for their children’s school fees. Good enough, I came across a young man whom I met as I was visiting a school just few kilometres from Kalulushi, in his early twenties attending his nineth grade. This was because as I spoke to few pupils from this school about their career goals, way of life and families, I could not have enough time to have a meaningful chat with him. He concluded an account of a series of stories that I had learnt about the way of life in this village. I was challenged as the young man narrated how he struggles to combine raising money to pay for his school fees and concentrating on school work. He said that he depends on charcoal burning and sales this merchandise to Kalulushi district more than 30 kilometres away from his village, and depending on a bicycle as the mode of transport. Since he carries charcoal packed in about four 25 kg bags on his bicycle, the entire distance is covered on foot. The young man explained to me that engaging in agriculture would be much better but lack of proper skills and income to buy input resources, are the main constraints himself and his family has been facing.

Low levels of literacy have haunted this neighbourhood, as a result of parents lacking income to support their children. The land and water resources are abundant but people do not have the knowhow skills and input resources for them to effectively engage in agriculture which happens to be the only environmental friendly and sustainable income generating activity than charcoal burning as most of the trees have been used for charcoal and fire wood. The people of this neighbourhood know that agriculture can work for them but means of engaging in the practice are limited. For the few who have the knowhow skills and finances to buy crop growing inputs, they have small fields in which they engage youths on piece work basis and pay them.

Agribusiness can create employment for the many poor urban and peri-urban youths, and provide for them an opportunity to improve their livelihood and that of their families. It can also provide skills and opportunities, making available a number of skills in which youth should engage in the world of work, while providing income generating opportunities for the improvement of their livelihoods and enabling them to be integrated into society socially and economically. Once self-sustainable, literate and independent and by participating and being in-charge of their lives as well as frontiers of change, the youths will become effective community leaders who would be able to drive sustainable development of their communities , environmentally, socially and economically. This way the youth will participate in development and will prove to be actors and resources in development cooperation.

Effective, meaningful and profitable engagement of youth in agribusiness requires the availability of a number of issues .The youth should acquire skills that will enable them to; carefully choose the right venture to undertake; prepare their fields and be able to handle their crops or livestock; market and sale their product, and this should be backed up by continuous extension support. They should have access to reliable land for their agricultural/livestock activities. They should have easy and affordable access to input resources. In addition, the youth should be helped to have access to the readily available market where they can sale their produce, engage in networking for information and knowledge sharing and exchange coupled with business development and field expansion incentives made available to them.

Considering the lessons I have learnt in this my mini expedition, there are a number of constraints that youth are facing and would face if they engage in agribusiness. Constraints include: skills acquisition, land acquisition, agricultural, livestock and fisheries inputs and other resources acquisition, production know how skills and continuous extension support, market sourcing, networking for information and knowledge sharing and exchange , business development and field expansion.

However, applying a number of aforementioned issues for effective, meaningful and profitable engagement of youth in agribusiness, agribusiness has the potential and can provide employment and income opportunities and improve the livelihoods of the poor and unemployed rural, peri-urban and urban youths. Furthermore, the application of Critical thinking, Creativity, Teamwork, Cross-Cultural Understanding, Self-Direction, Communication and Technology, should not be left out if this intervention has to be successful. Fore-instance Continuous learning, this becomes more workable with the support and availability of ICTs, has proved to be essential if agricultural ventures have to be successful. This is evident in the results of a study carried out by the United States of America based International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI) in which it is estimated that variable climate reduces Zambia’s rate of economic growth by 0.4 percentage points on average each year. This is because those venturing in agriculture cannot adapt to the variable climate patterns which are cardinal to agriculture. Continuous learning and the availability of up to date information would largely contribute to the adaptation of these variable trends in climate.

Therefore, researchers, professionals, knowledge managers, ICT4D practitioners and professionals, donors and micro-financing institutional, agriculture/livestock and fisheries experts and other stakeholders should engage in closing the gap to ensure sustainable solutions are put in place in both short and long term. More so, it should always be noted that we are still celebrating and advocating for dialogue and mutual understanding as the theme for the International year of the youth and are besides being reminded to consider the ‘youth perspective and youth 21st Century Skills’ approach if we are to effectively and sustainably engage the youth in development.

By Wandila Simon Kamukwape
Zambia Telecentre Network member
Linkedin: Wandila simon
Facebook: Wandila
simon @kamukwape