AWARD Fellow Bettie Sindi Kawonga’s vision is motivated by her conviction that Malawian youth are a “sleeping giant”, capable of contributing a lot more to the country, and to Africa’s efforts to improve its food security. Currently, more than 60 percent of Malawi’s population are still in their youth (under age 25), with many unemployed or under-employed due to lack of technical skills and few job opportunities.
A lecturer at the Lilongwe University of Agriculture and Natural Resources, Kawonga was awarded the US$150,000 prize following a successful application for a 40 Chances Fellowship, funded by the Howard G. Buffett Foundation, Tony Blair’s Africa Governance Initiative, and the World Food Prize Foundation. The prize was awarded during the World Food Prize event in Des Moines, Iowa, on October 16, which was also World Food Day.
Kawonga plans to use some of the funds to establish a network of community business incubation centers to help under-employed Malawian youth become successful entrepreneurs in the dairy sector. “I plan to offer them the opportunity to acquire technical skills in dairy husbandry and value addition, agribusiness management, loans and savings, as well as business proposal writing,” she says. With the creation of an endowment fund using a portion of her award money, Kawonga will also provide youth with start-up business funds, and facilitate the matching of youth with business mentors to guide them in the growth of their businesses.
“Malawi needs to increase its investment in sectors that promote youth development,” notes Kawonga, who is currently pursuing doctoral studies in Dairy Systems Management at the University of Kentucky, U.S.A., thanks to a Borlaug Higher Education Agricultural and Development scholarship. “The vision of this planned project is to create a critical mass of young skillful dairy entrepreneurs for sustainable growth and socio-economic development in Malawi,” she continues. “For Malawi to attain food and nutrition security, reduce poverty, and increase socio-economic development, there is a need to tap into this very important human resource that is laying idle.”
Kawonga says her project will focus on youth, because studies show that agricultural investment in Malawi has typically concentrated on other groups—such as women and men—and has neglected the youth. “However,” she says, “African governments, including the Government of Malawi, have come to realize that if their nations are to develop sustainably, there is a need to invest more in the continent’s majority—the youth.”
The 40 Chances Fellowship, launched to recognize innovations and ideas that offer sustainable, transformational change in accomplishing global food security in Africa, offers an opportunity to young entrepreneurs like Kawonga, who are working to alleviate development challenges in Africa.
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