Zambian banana plantation teaches at-risk youth useful life skills

At-risk teens and young adults in the Chongwe and Luagwa districts of Zambia work with ChildFund International to build a business in bananas. The banana plantation, built and cared for by the young people, will see its first harvest in November.

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    Youths from Chongwe, Zambia gather by the solar panel-powered irrigation system they helped build to keep their banana plantation fertile.
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At-risk youth from the Chongwe and Luangwa districts of Zambia are building a future with their own banana plantation.

A joint effort between ChildFund International, the local government, and village leaders has allowed these teens and young adults to develop what could be a lucrative business plan in growing and selling their own bananas.

The land-locked African country has universal primary education, but few study beyond the first six years of schooling. According to the CIA World Factbook, sixty-four percent of the population live below the poverty line. Some of the most impoverished live in the Chongwe and Luangwa districts.

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According to Rory Anderson, ChildFund International Director of External Relations, many of the youth here end up raising themselves because of the HIV/AIDS epidemic. They live on the streets and engage in risky behaviors, including drug and alcohol abuse. Food security is a constant problem; consistently getting enough food and proper nutrition is an issue for many.

"They still have to have a future and find a way to contribute to society," Anderson said.

ChildFund International staff and volunteers in the area, many of them Zambian nationals, saw a need engage these youths and educate them. A group of around 200 14 to 25-year-olds from Chongwe and Luangwa began to discuss their futures.

"We intentionally work with the most deprived and vulnerable youth within that district," Anderson said.

By engaging the youths and asking what they wanted to do, it was decided that they wanted to go into business. They were taught how to do a market assessment and decide what type of business would be manageable and lucrative. The group chose to build a banana plantation, and they learned how to develop a business plan for their venture.

"They have these ideas and they're willing to do the work," Anderson said.

Using ChildFund seed money and land donated by the local government, the teens and young adults in the program began planting in December, 2010. They have 1,500 banana trees that are watered by a mechanical irrigation system powered by solar panels. They use cell phones to check market prices and stay on top of the market.

Along with ChildFund staff, agriculture extension workers from the government and private companies helped the youths install the irrigation system and solar panels, as well as taught them how to cultivate and care for the banana trees.

The group will see their first harvest this November and have worked with buyers on the local and national level. They've spoken with Shoprite, a supermarket chain based in South Africa, as well as food distributor Parmalat.

The profits from the sales are going to be reinvested in the plantation. The group plans to diversify, and many of the youth are interested in branching off into fish farms and aquaculture.

"It's like nothing I've ever seen before because it's self-sustaining," Anderson said. "It's becoming one of our model programs because it has been so successful."

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