The African Development Bank’s board of Executive Directors approved on Wednesday, October 14 a loan of US $30 million to the Government of Zambia for the Skills Development and Entrepreneurship Project Supporting Women and Youth.

The project is designed to promote job creation, gender equality and poverty reduction amongst young cassava producers to enable inclusive economic growth and sustainable livelihoods development.

The project supports the Government’s efforts to urgently reduce levels of extreme poverty (42.3% in 2010), and reduce unemployment among youth (only 16.6% participation in the formal employment sector in 2012). Masses of the working poor, particularly women, in rural areas also constitute a major development challenge for Zambia.

Implemented in seven provinces, the project will develop 10 industrial clusters (five urban, five rural) to improve the competitiveness of micro, small and medium enterprises (MSMEs) in the light manufacturing sector (e.g. metalwork, woodwork, leatherwork, building components, vehicle maintenance, agro-processing). These industrial clusters will provide about 1,000 MSMEs with business and technical skills as well as access to technology and innovation for product development, market linkages, business development services, linkages with financial institutions and incubation centres, and shared facilities with support services and specialised equipment.

“The project is expected to stimulate a 25% increase in business volumes for youth and women-led MSMEs operating in the industrial clusters in target market segments as well as the creation of 17,000 on-farm and 4,000 off-farm job opportunities for women and youth,” said Sunita Pitamber, AfDB Director for Human Development.

The project will also support the development of the cassava value chain with a focus on the commercialization of cassava products through local and regional market linkages, technology and innovation and enabling Government policy reforms. The industrial clusters will equip 17,000 cassava farmers associations and cooperatives with business and technical skills for the production and the commercialization of cassava products to ensure high yields accompanied by timely and efficient production and storage capacity. In addition, the project will finance the construction of 15 cassava bulking centres, five of which will be equipped for the piloting of the production of fortified garri by a cooperative of 500 women.

Spillover benefits of increased production of cassava will contribute to (i) food security in the region; (ii) improved nutrition and early childhood development through fortified cassava products in school-feeding programs; (iii) additional inputs to livestock and fisheries feed; and (iv) inputs to the paper and extractives industry.

Feeding Africa is one of the new corporate priorities of the African Development Bank. The Bank is hosting a high-level Ministerial Conference to set an action plan for agricultural transformation in Africa in Dakar, Senegal, from October 21-23, 2015.