Sifelani Tsiko Agric, Environment and Innovations Editor
Making agriculture more attractive to young people can help create decent employment opportunities for them in rural areas and reverse perceptions and stereotypes that agriculture is hard and less attractive to venture into.
A number of young people still complain that agriculture is hard and boring, with little income.
The youth make about half of the country’s 13 million people and should play an important role in shaping and influencing the direction of the Zimbabwe’s future food security.
Migrating to urban areas no longer guarantees jobs and employment opportunities and increasingly many development organisation now say it is critical to mainstream youth participation in all rural development programmes.
Most of the youth are unemployed and many live in rural areas where there are vast arable lands, yet they are not keen to engage in agriculture for various reasons.
The Livelihoods and Food Security Programme (LSFP) run by Practical Action and other partners, is now helping to deter young people away from stereotypes associated with traditional farming.
The LSFP is part of the Improved Nutrition and Sustainable Production for Increased Resilience and Economic growth (INSPIRE) project funded by the UK’s Department of International Development and managed by the FAO.
It aims to improve agricultural productivity access to markets and nutrition in Makoni, Mutasa and Mutare rural districts. The INSPIRE programme is engaging youth in agriculture and making them more visible in the country’s development agenda.
“In Zimbabwe and elsewhere across the world young people have become disenchanted with agriculture and we need to arrest this through programmes that encourage their participation to see agriculture as business,” said Zvikomborero Zimunya, a communications specialist for the Food and Agriculture Organisation in Zimbabwe.
“Through the INSPIRE project we want to encourage youth participation in farming. Agriculture offers the young generation a chance to make a difference by growing enough food to feed the Zimbabwe and the rest of the continent.”
In all the programme areas implemented by Practical Action, signs are there that main-streaming youth participation in agriculture can help change youth perceptions on agriculture, helping them to view it as an exciting and innovative industry.
The Headlands Goat Breeders Association is thriving and is supporting young people to play an active role in taking farming as a business. From just two goats in 2015, the association now boasts 115 goats that include the Matabele, Boer, Kalahari and local goat breeds. It is now selling an average of 45 goats every two months earning the association some US$2 500.
“Farming pays and we are encouraging the youth to take up agriculture seriously as a form of employment,” said Dickson Wecha, the association’s president.
“We supported our youths here in Headlands to start goat breeding and aluminium pot making projects.
“They have taken it up and now they have savings of up to US$800. It’s important for us to walk with our youths — supporting them wherever possible to play an active part in farming.”
There are other INSPIRE projects too, in Makoni, Mutasa and Mutare districts which are taking up agriculture to be a big part of the solution to youth unemployment around the country.
Ethel Mafurarikwa, a member of the Senda Co-operative group in Marange district, said they have supported a youth group to start farming as a business and improve livelihoods.
“We have supported our young people to start goat breeding and poultry rearing as well as growing cash crops to help them see the value of agriculture in improving their lives,” she said.
“We are sharing all the trainings we got from the INSPIRE project. We are involving them and sharing with them the skills on financial literacy, bookkeeping, gender empowerment and marketing.
“Jobs are scarce and we are helping them to realise the job opportunities that come with agriculture. Many are quite enthusiastic about it because they are seeing the benefits.”
The Senda group has 160 goats, a hatchery that can hold 2 200 eggs, Boschveld chickens and runs a thriving crop field with maize, watermelons and tomatoes. Members have benefited immensely from the savings club and some have started fish farming after getting loans from their club.
“I’m quite excited about farming and breeding goats,” said Patuma Mishoni, a young farmer at the Senda co-op.
“We have planted cucumbers now after harvesting tomatoes that we sold and earned about ZW$800. It is quite good that our parents are not leaving us behind. We must be part of them.”
Naume Kutsawa, a veteran farmer from Kwambana Village in the Honde Valley area of Mutasa district said the youth should carry the torch into the future.
“I’m getting old and I want young people to take up farming to earn a living,” said the lead farmer with vast experience in fish farming, seed production and the breeding of goats, chickens, rabbits and rock rabbits.
“I want to be a tower light to the youth. I want to show them the value of farming in life. I have trained a number of young people to start fish farming. Many are keen, but they don’t have capital to start the business. We need to support them.”
Kutsawa got training from the INSPIRE project and has since diversified into fish farming, poultry and goat breeding to widen her income.
She has a 4 000 fish stock and has since sold about 120kg of it, earning more than ZW$1 560.
In 2018, Kutsawa and her group produced 32 tonnes of maize seed for the Zimbabwe Super Seed company.
Her children and grandchildren are motivated to take up farming. Some are excited about the money that agriculture can bring.
Memory Nyagumbo of the Takwirira Group in the Zindi area of Honde Valley in Mutasa district said youth involvement in agriculture could help improve livelihoods, create jobs and reduce rural-urban migration.
“We are a young group of farmers and we are so happy about the support we have received from Practical Action’s INSPIRE project,” she said.
Nyagumbo said INSPIRE’s Gender Action Learning Systems (GALS) programme has led to a significant reduction in gender-based violence, alcoholism and improved joint planning, sharing of household tasks and increase in the number of women in leadership positions.
“My husband was a drunkard, but when we got training, he changed and embraced farming projects that are bringing income to our household. Through money we got from our savings club, my husband has managed to get a driver’s licence and a passport. He is now a truck driver and I have also trained as a nurse aid.”
The group has 526 boschveld chickens and runs a hatchery service. Between January and September, the group earned ZW$3 709 and it now plans to expand its chicken rearing business and install a solar system for the hatchery service.
Through the INSPIRE project, the image of agriculture is changing and young people now see farming as an attractive source of jobs.
“Increasing the capacity of small holder farmers to produce food, building their resilience against climate shocks and disasters such drought and flooding is key to ensure national food security and nutrition,” said Innocent Katsande, a knowledge management and communications coordinator for Practical Action.
“Our work under the LFSP Project is aiming at raising smallholder farm productivity through promoting improved and climate appropriate agricultural practices, enabling access to finance and promoting the production and consumption of safe and more nutritious food.”
Africa has the youngest population in the world, according to the United Nations. There were 226 million people aged between 15 and 24 in 2015, about 19 percent of the global total and this figure is expected to double by 2045.
Southern Africa also has one of the highest youth unemployment rates on the continent, with 53 percent of young women and 43 percent of young men, not employed.
Making agriculture attractive to young is critical for employment creation and to spur economic and social transformation. Development experts say Africa’s rural youth face particular barriers to accessing productive employment.
They tend to encounter challenges in accessing adequate knowledge, information and education, sufficient land, inputs, financial services and markets.
Finding innovative ways to make the agricultural value chain more attractive to youth to curtail “distress migration” as well as unlock the potential of the sector in providing decent employment and improved livelihood could be one route to help Zimbabwe attain Sustainable Development Goal 8 which calls for productive employment and decent work for all.
With adequate support and encouragement it is possible for young people to become farmers and have the opportunity to be the generation that end world hunger and alleviate malnutrition, as well as helping the sector adapt to climate change. Experts say there is need to reignite the love for farming by creating a conducive environment for the youth to play their part in agriculture.
In the end, perhaps the biggest step is to change youth perceptions on farming.