Last week, Lands, Agriculture, Water, Fisheries and Rural Development Deputy Minister Douglas Karoro revealed that all A2 farmers will now be required to hire qualified farm managers in a move expected to give a new complexion to the agricultural production landscape through enhanced performance and high standard practices.
This decision by Government could not have come at better time given that the country is seized with trying to breathe life into its agro-based economy through improved agricultural productivity, which requires farmers or their farm managers to be conversant with what they are doing, while employing business-driven strategies that can take production levels to the next level.
It is common knowledge that with the advent of the land reform, many farmers and farm managers have been relying more on work experience than educational requirements but with the ever-changing and increasingly complex issues of farm management practices, it is fast becoming vital for farmers to hire qualified personnel for the manager’s job.
Although Zimbabwe has invested a lot in agricultural colleges, universities have also come handy in churning out professionals most of whom are not being fully utilised in the agriculture industry.
The education the graduates are receiving can in most cases prepare individuals for careers in farm management, sales, agribusiness and consultation, which makes them ideal candidates to lead the charge towards revolutionising agriculture and allow Government’s numerous support programmes and individual initiatives to bear the desired fruits.
During training the students learn about marketing, soil science, agronomy, pest management, computerised record keeping and precision agriculture economics and statistics, issues that are at the core of the drive to improve agricultural production.
Gone are the days when farm managers would be engaged on the basis that they are related to the farmer or were there when the farm started operating yet they would not have the technical knowledge of what they would be getting themselves into.
Farm management is a very broad subject that even covers environmental issues like water conservation, crop rotation and genetic diversification within herds of livestock, which requires one to have received hands-on training in things such as planting, administrative duties and harvesting to say the least.
In addition to improving communication and leadership skills, tertiary agricultural programmes may teach students mechanics, natural resources, technology and productivity in the crop and livestock industries, which ensures high productivity at the farm.
The manager must be able to implement researched and informed agricultural practices, putting to rest the traditional impression that success in farming involves luck or is just a product of coincidence.
The country’s land reform programme left thousands of farmers in possession of A2 farms, which are expected to be the pillars of agricultural productivity backed by the A1s and the communal categories, as efforts to resuscitate the commercial sector gather momentum from all directions.
The successful turnaround of Zimbabwe’s agro-based economy is evidently dependent on A2 farms becoming productive, which has been a major focus of policy attention in recent years with Government going all out to level the playing field to enable farmers to fully demonstrate their potential.
On the one hand, Government also moved to adopt education 5.0 that allows state universities to fully explore their traditional tripartite mission of teaching, research and community service in line with the national ambition to attain middle income status by year 2030.
It is now demanded of the nation’s higher and tertiary education sector to not only teach, research and community serve, but to innovate and industrialise Zimbabwe, which agriculture graduates can easily do if drafted into managerial positions on farms.
Curricula at universities have been crafted to equip students with knowledge in animal science, soil management and livestock production, which allows them to make well-informed decisions that increase productivity while minimising effort exerted once given the chance to put their training into practice.
Essentially, the programmes they do at college make them conversant with agricultural marketing, agricultural law, commodity futures, economics, rangeland vegetation and weed sciences among other important topics.
This leaves them ready for careers and contributions in agricultural production, processing, marketing, policy, management, teaching, research, development and service.
Farm managers need to be qualified to implement strategies for maximum yield, organise farm administration, work machinery and manage any associated businesses and staff.
With the growing choruses to commercialise agriculture, farmers need managers that are capable of planning finances and production to maintain farm progress against budget parameters, undertake practical activities such as driving tractors, operating machinery, feeding livestock or spraying fields, market the farm’s products and buy supplies such as fertiliser and seeds.
It is also the manager’s responsibility to arrange the maintenance and repair of farm buildings, machinery and equipment, plan activities for trainee staff, mentoring and monitoring them, maintain and monitor the quality of yield, whether livestock or crops, understand the implications of the weather and make contingency plans, make sure products are ready for deadlines, such as auctions and markets, ensure that farm activities comply with Government regulations and monitor animal health and welfare, including liaising with vets among others.
The farm managers must also have knowledge of pests and diseases and understand how they spread and how to treat them while applying health and safety standards across the farm, protect the environment and maintain biodiversity, keep financial records up to date and know when to apply for funding if necessary.
Although the hands-on farming experience and technical knowledge that used to be considered in the past were as important as academic qualifications with some employers using them to appoint managers, a degree or any other tertiary qualification in a related such as agricultural engineering, crop management, farm business management, horticulture and land or estate management is now the in-thing with the current industrialisation of agriculture.
It is, however, quite exciting to note that there has been an upsurge of interest in farm management particularly among smallholder farmers that are becoming market-oriented and realising the need to increase profits and become more competitive. Potential market-oriented farmers have demonstrated this zeal through their choice of crops such as tobacco, sugar beans and cotton ahead of other categories as their first steps toward commercialisation.
Of course such farmers may be doing well but the fact still remains that they often lack the skills needed to manage their farms as businesses and therefore need extension and training support to develop their management skills and competencies.
Also, such farmers often sell their produce at favourable prices that are often undifferentiated and where competition is high, which puts them at a disadvantage.
They are less able to sell their produce in urban areas which are rapidly growing.
The solution to this may rest in building marketing skills or engaging someone to manage such farming disciplines, which is where the manager comes in.
The majority of such farmers end up blaming their shortcomings on lack of funding yet that may not even be the case.
Very often their challenge lies in the management of the capital resources that they have.