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‘How Nigeria can tackle youth unemployment’

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Cuso International is a Canadian development organisation that works to reduce poverty and inequality through the efforts of volunteers, collaborative partnerships and compassionate donors. Head of Programmes Africa, Patricia Wall, in this interview with Anietie Akpan, Deputy Bureau Chief, South South, talks about how youth unemployment and poverty can be tackled through entrepreneurship and others, Excerpts:

What are Cuso International’s programmes in Nigeria?
CUSO International’s work is driven by authentic engagement with, and accountability to the people and communities involved. Our key areas of focus include community, health and livelihood development.

Here in Nigeria, we are working in Cross River State where we have two projects funded by the Government of Canada through Global Affairs Canada (GAC). The projects include: The Youth Leadership Entrepreneurship Access and Development (YouLead) project and Volunteers in International Cooperation and Empowerment (VOICE) project. YouLead project focuses on youth employment and entrepreneurship; it seeks to tackle economic challenges such as food security, youth unemployment, ecological risks like climate change, and discrimination based on gender. On the other hand, VOICE project builds partnership with the public healthcare system and community based organizations to improve access to healthcare. It focuses on reproductive health issues affecting pregnant mothers.

The purpose of these projects can best be achieved with the support of and within an enabling environment provided by government, private sector, family and local community. The young women and men on the project need every support they can get.

Why is Cuso International implementing its projects in Cross River State?
Cross River State has a huge population of youth and is blessed with abundant natural resources; however, many of the youth are unemployed. This situation has not only led to poverty; it has also increased criminality and youth restiveness in this state. As you know, unemployment and poverty are two major problems that any society intending to achieve economic growth and development must tackle.

To tackle the huge problem of youth employment in the state, Cuso International in 2014, launched Youth Leadership, Entrepreneurship, Access and Development (YouLead) project in Cross River State.

The overall goal of the YouLead project is to promote youth employment and entrepreneurship in natural resource sectors of agriculture, forestry, ecotourism and aquaculture in all 18 Local Government Areas (LGAs) in Cross River State (CRS), in line with the state government’s comprehensive vision to address high youth unemployment and rural-urban drift of young women and men in priority sectors, which promote sustainable economic growth.

The project aims to reduce youth unemployment by improving entrepreneurial and labour force capacities of young women and men, as well as the policies, regulations and enabling environment required to create jobs and economic opportunities in natural resources. Our target is to train 12, 000 young women and men in entrepreneurship, create 4,500 businesses and expand 500 existing businesses across the 18 councils of Cross River State.

The ultimate outcome of the YouLead project is aligned with the United Nations Sustainable Development Goal 8 which seeks to promote sustained, inclusive and sustainable economic growth, full and productive employment and decent work for all.

We identify market opportunities for young women and men, create access to the markets and support the youth to develop good business plans which will enable them get funding to start up their businesses.

We have identified 12 agricultural products that we are focusing on in the 18 local government areas in Cross River State; they include cassava, oil palm, poultry, fishery, mushroom, rice, honey (apiculture), plantain, cocoa, goat keeping and renewable energy. We expose our beneficiaries to business opportunities along these value chains, so that they can build businesses around them. Youth on the project are challenged to step up and utilize the available opportunity to begin their own businesses and in turn become employers of other young people.

You highlighted some agricultural value chains promoted by the YouLead project, how do you strengthen them?
YouLead provides entrepreneurial and technical skills training to young women and men interested in identified agricultural value chains. We make them understand the opportunities that exist in the value chains, to enable them go into different levels such as production, processing, packaging or storage. We provide trainings; develop institutional competencies of civil society organizations to support producers to improve the value of their products and services in the identified and selected value chain. We also initiated community extension volunteer programme in agriculture, forestry, aquaculture and renewable, to provide communities with knowledge and expertise on new production methods and business development skills.

In addition, we establish and strengthen linkages between the private sector, business support services and micro financial services providers to provide needed credit and financial services to young entrepreneurs interested in the selected value chains.

For the three years that this program has run, we have seen a lot of positive impact that this project has created in the minds of the youth. In the next five years, I can assure that a good number of youth will be self-employed and will become employers of labour. As I speak, lots of our youth have set up businesses because of the interventions of this project, and they are employing other youth in their communities.

So far, how many youths have access finance for business startup through your intervention?
First, we work through microfinance institution partners to enhance capacity of the banks to facilitate access to credit for our beneficiaries. We also have an internal grant mechanism called Young Entrepreneurs Business Support Plan (YEBSP). Through the scheme, we disburse grant to beneficiaries of the project and support them to set up and grow their businesses. So far, about N6. 2 million has been disbursed in form of loans to 32 beneficiaries from microfinance bank partners and another N6.5 million disbursed in form of grants to 68 beneficiaries in 6 LGAs of Cross River State. In terms of training, we have trained over 4000 youths and we have supported over 600 businesses. A huge gap exists in financial inclusion in Nigeria, many young women are men are unable to access financial products and service due to some social and institutional barriers.

The YouLead project is doing a whole lot in building the capacity of youth to become successful entrepreneurs, by equipping them with requisite skills to startup businesses in agricultural value chains in Cross River State; however the youth are currently faced with a huge challenge of lack of access to finance for business startup. The state government should facilitate the process of drawing down the 200 billion CBN `SME fund, so that the 12,000 young women and men trained by the YouLead project will be able to access the fund to start up their businesses at single digit rate. This will help to create jobs and reduce unemployment in Cross River State.

Gender inequality, is a major issue limiting equal participation of young women and men, in economic activities, how does Cuso International tackle this?
Gender Equality and Social Inclusion is a critical area for us, it is also very important to Government of Canada. The first one is to promote more equal participation of women with men as decision makers in shaping the sustainable development of their societies.  The second one is to reduce inequalities between women and men in access to and control over resources and benefits of development.

We look at gender inequality in terms of barriers that limit women from participating in economic activities; some of the barriers include inadequate access to land and resources, inadequate access to loans and grants and some government policies. We also look at some financial institutions policies, for example, the use of collateral to access loans. Many women cannot inherit land; hence this is a barrier to them accessing loans where collateral is needed. We also look culture and social practices, inadequate relevant skills, inadequate access to vocational training, lack of access to relevant information, and access to markets.

We have built the capacity of partner microfinance banks on issues around gender. Because of our engagement with the MFBs, they have removed some of the stringent conditions that prevent women from getting financial products from banks. We have also taken our entrepreneurship trainings to the rural areas, so that women will be able to participate in our training. We give special attention to women that have literacy problems, we help them to fill their grant and loan application forms.

We have also conducted trainings for all our partners to clear issues around gender role. We carry out information campaigns promoting equitable participation of women and men in access to and control over natural resource and benefits.

Issues of environment are a challenge in global setting, what is your effort in this regard?
It is in the common good of everyone in the state and in Nigeria that we all make the right decisions to preserve our environment. As a result of economic struggles for survival, there is pressure on both land and forest, hence we need to be environmentally friendly and be aware of what should or should not be done. Young women and men on the project, as well as private sector, technical partners and business development partners are encouraged to observe environmentally responsible practices in all their engagements. We can reduce, reuse and recycle our daily by-products for a cleaner and healthier environment. We also encourage local communities to see what opportunities are there to preserve the forest and at the same time get some benefits without destroying the forest.


In this article:
Patricia WallYEBSPYouLead

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