By Ndafadza Madanha
THE Empower Bank launched by government last year to support various youth initiatives says the bulk of its advances have gone to the agriculture and agribusiness sectors.
Empower bank has to date disbursed $1 million and has reached out to more than 6000 youths since inception.
According to Empower Bank Head of marketing and communication Christina Muchekeza another $4.1million worth of projects is awaiting consideration with the bulk in the agriculture and its value chains.
She said the demand for agribusiness loans has led the bank to make syndication arrangements with other financial institutions.
“To date the bank has approved loans short of one million dollars with some awaiting disbursement. Since inception we have reached out to more than 6000 youths through our various marketing and outreach programs across the country.
Of the approved loans, loans that have been approved for the agricultural sector and its value chain are the significant part of our loan book with more than, $4.1 million under consideration for various individual clients, groups, and associations with most of them under contract farming for both crop and animal husbandry.
Some of the loans are in the form of value chain financing. As a result of the huge appetite by the agribusiness sector, the bank is now looking into syndication arrangements with other financial institutions. We also have arrangements were out growers schemes and associations have loans approved and draw down on their loans is done in stages according to the different requirements at each stage of the farming cycle.
Given that our youth are widely dispersed around the country, the bank has a working model that identify schemes, associations and groups, which allows us to reach a wider number of the youth at any given time irrespective of their location.
We have also started working in conjunction with the youth desk under the Ministry of Agriculture and Climate in identifying opportunities for youth empowerment.
As this Ministry has more insight on what’s on the ground when it comes to young farmers.
As Empower Bank our strategy is to give more focus to Agriculture, its value chain and small-scale mining, which means a significant amount of our loan book is to be allocated to these key sectors which are the main growth areas of the economy.
And we are glad to say the current position is that most of the approved loans to date are in the agricultural sector and we are looking forward to significant contribution towards employment creation from these focus areas”.
As the country battles to create jobs for its burgeoning youthful population agriculture is regarded as offering employment opportunities and lifting them out of poverty.
The Harnessing demographic dividend in Zimbabwe report supported by the United Nations Population Fund (UNPFA), noted that a majority of the Zimbabwe labor force is engaged in the agricultural sector and emphasis should be put to enhance its capacity to create attractive livelihood opportunities for the youth across the value chain.
Mechekeza said the bank had put in place various measures to ensure that youths are not disqualified only based on lack of collateral.
“We look mainly at the viability of the projects and its capacity to create employment as it’s a key mandate of the bank when assessing the application.
In other instances, where the loan is for purchasing equipment we pay directly to suppliers and use the purchased equipment as collateral while the machine is being used.
The client must pledge the equipment and give us an undertaking that they will not move equipment from the agreed business location without the banks knowledge or sell the equipment.
Young people are also encouraged to work in groups and cross guarantee each other, join out growers’ scheme or do contract farming.
These kind of models, gives the bank some level of comfort as it can track the value chain in terms of how the capital or loan is applied and how the young farmers will be paid. Currently we have under consideration contract farmers and out growers’ schemes which has more than 1450 farmers”.