By Kebba Jeffang
The Deputy Resident Representative of the United Nation Development Program (UNDP), Nessie Golakai, said a key characteristic of poverty is high unemployment which every nation should address. She was speaking at the graduation of 52 young people from the Gambia Songhai Initiative Agricultural Training Centre in Chamen, North Bank Region recently.
She said the Labour Force Survey Report 2012, indicated that 38 per cent of youth were unemployed compared to the national unemployment rate of 29 per cent.
Golakai said poverty and unemployment are the biggest development challenges in the Gambia and the youth are a disproportionate segment of this demography. She added that youth unemployment and poverty is largely associated with little opportunities to access quality skills training, livelihood opportunities and access to credit and other assets.
She said: “Due to unemployment, most of the youth leave the country through irregular migration leaving the burden of development in the host communities, on the shoulders of their aging parents.”
“The situation places a lot of pressure on those left behind, especially the elderly and those not receiving remittances. The youth claim that the root causes of migration are lack of skills and employment opportunities,” she said.
According to her, the formal sector cannot employ all the youth and therefore strategic choice must be made to absorb them in productive engagement. Sectorial analysis indicates that agricultural transformation and modernization can be a viable part of the response to youth unemployment challenges.
“It is Important that the new Gambia deliver on its promises for which youth employment and diversification of the economy is critical and a must,” he stressed.
She continued: “The recent political transition affords The Gambia an opportunity to review and take positive actions that will improve the quality and status of the youth to build a vibrant and resilient economy, and promote overall national sustainable development as committed to in the global 2030 agenda for sustainable development and Africa agenda 2063 adopted in 2015 and 2013 respectively.”
She noted that investing in the youth folk is a clear assurance of a positive future thus, the project sees youth as primary stakeholders and seeks to empower them with specialized knowledge and skills to become successful operators in agribusiness.
Mr. Henry Gomez, Minister of Youth and Sports, said the government of the New Gambia recognized the role of young people in the rapid development of this Country.
He said the rapidly rising population of young people in The Gambia poses some development challenges but can also be transformed into an opportunity for effective contribution to national development.
“Without the relevant investments in youth to realize their full potentials, young people can easily be exposed to vices such as forced migration, radicalization and violent extremism,” he said.
He added that the country has witnessed the massive migration of young people from the country to Europe, by using perilous routes. Many young lives have already been lost in the process of trying to reach Europe.
“The Gambia can however reap the benefits of a bulging young population by investing in youth empowerment programs. To harness the demographic dividend of a youthful population would require effective investments in health, empowerment, education and employment of youth, through public and private sector involvement,” he noted.
He added: “Investing in young people living in rural areas is key to enhancing agricultural productivity and food security, boosting rural economies, and reducing rural- urban migration.”
He said young people have enormous potential for the innovation and risk-taking that is often at the core of growth and development in rural areas, particularly in smallholder agriculture.
He stated that young farmers and producers often have greater capacity for innovation and entrepreneurship than older adults. This capacity may better equip them to address the emerging requirements of agriculture and the rural non-farm economy.
“Our most important resource as a country is our young people. With the right investments in this resource we will realize our development aspirations,” he observed.
This, he added, calls for the commitment of all in the national quest to provide relevant and timely investment in youth for these engines of national development, to realize their full potentials.
Jude Nwachukwu, Coordinator, Project Technical Team at Chamen, said GSI has enrolled 137 people, 47 per cent of whom are female and 53 per cent male, within two years.
He said: “Out of the 137, GSI graduated 80 trainees, 35 of are already employed by the Food and Agricultural Organisation, Basic and secondary Education and GSI Chamen, while the rest are still unemployed.” He added that 40 youth have been recruited and are undergoing training as the 4th batch.
The challenges, he said, are water supply and this has been their major challenges, saying if urgently resolved, it can lead to an increase in the level of production activities. He said power and funding are also other challenges that GIS is right now facing and need urgent intervention to address them.
The Gambia Songhai Initiative is implemented based on the Songhai Model, an innovative institution. It is a Two Component Initiative: to develop a functional Agricultural System that is functional through the Mother’s farm and to Incubate Agro- Entrepreneurs and promotes services to leverage them; thus creating a spread effect by building a critical mass of successful young entrepreneurs throughout the country.