The government of Uganda rolled out a Shs44.5b Youth Entrepreneurship Venture Capital Fund in 2011/12 financial year. Recently, a pilot training programme was launched in 15 districts. Indeed, the training provides excellent entrepreneurial life skills to the youth.
However, a critical observation and analysis of the majority of business enterprises selected in Pader and Tororo districts reveals that agribusiness has not been embraced. About 75 per cent of youth beneficiaries are retail traders, a few were engaged in business ventures that calls for utilisation of abundant natural resources for the production of goods and services for local and international markets.
When we think about Youth Venture Capital Fund that will benefit the youth in the next 50 years of Uganda, we should be making critical observations.
First, if the government hopes to solve youth unemployment, then the focus should be on policies that encourage youth to become productive in the rural areas, to be innovative and create opportunities for self-employment.
With the rural electrification and other infrastructural development programmes in place, a multi-sectoral approach that promotes improved agricultural production, value addition and agribusiness value chains links need to be adopted to achieve forward and backward economic linkages between the rural and urban sector.
Secondly, when it comes to the commercial bank lending policy, the selected Youth Fund partner financial institutions have always sidelined small-holder farmers in accessing loans for agribusiness.
The Fund could be used to stimulate the rural economy that employs more than 80 per cent of the population. Youth could venture into a range of viable business opportunities in the sector such as agro-processing, Rice hulling and packaging, bee keeping and honey processing, fish farming and processing, piggery, goat rearing and poultry farming.
Value added agriculture outputs would find ready markets in most supermarkets in urban areas, curtailing imported processed food items and improving the balance of payment.
Thirdly, Uganda is still among the world’s poorest countries and despite the high GDP growth rates achieved in the recent years, 24.5 per cent of the population still live below the poverty line.
Agriculture, although largely underfunded, is still the most important sector of the Ugandan economy. Uganda has the youngest age structure in the world, with 77 per cent of its population under the age of 30. This implies that if a first class economy is to be attained by 2040, a youth-led development intervention focused on agriculture is crucial.
Lastly, are we replicating successful development models? For instance, the Asian economic miracle of 1960s adopted various free market reforms, prioritised youth entrepreneurship and mindset-change.
Unless we embrace agribusiness in youth entrepreneurship and practical innovative technologies producing value added products for both local and international markets, our vision of a first class economy will remain a day-time dream.
Mr Owino is the Programme Learning and Development Coordinator at Eastern Archdiocesan Development Network (EADEN) Mbale .