Sifelani Tsiko Senior Writer
In Zimbabwe and most other African countries, it is increasingly becoming difficult to convince the “Facebook generation” to take up agriculture both as a job and a business.
Many of our youth complain that agriculture is hard and less attractive to venture into.
The sad irony is that our youth, who make about half of the country’s 13 million people, don’t want to have anything to do with food production, and yet they all love eating.
Most of our youth are unemployed and many live in rural areas where there are huge arable lands, yet they are not keen to engage in agriculture for various reasons.
So many reasons have been given such as marginalisation, lack of training and limited access to credit facilities and equipment for farming.
In most of our rural areas, the elderly remain the backbone of our agricultural production with minimum participation by the youth.
Zimbabwe’s young women and men prefer to leave rural areas to seek employment opportunities in large towns and cities and across borders.
This has worsened our problems as a country and as the youth fail to get jobs, the number of the urban poor increases and the country starts to rely on imports since it is not producing enough food.
However, there is a glimmer of hope when our governments and international development partners take practical steps to promote the involvement of youth in the agricultural sector.
Recently, I was impressed by Farai Mashoko, a young farmer at Rozva Irrigation Scheme in Bikita.
He has taken up farming seriously and has realised earnings from contract farming of beans, onions, peas, maize and other crops.
He feels empowered, and with his earnings, he has bought materials to build his parents a house.
Apart from this, he has also started saving money to buy a truck and farming implements.
Mashoko had lost all hope of getting a job, until the Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) rehabilitated irrigation infrastructure at Rozva.
He has benefited immensely from the programme, which was implemented by FAO and the Ministry Lands, Agriculture, Climate and Rural Resettlement.
The FAO programme involved the rehabilitation of the Rozva Irrigation Scheme, training of farmers, building market linkages, farming as a business, health and nutrition as well as promoting sustainable farming practices.
The rehabilitation of smallholder irrigation projects across the country by FAO, the Government and other partners is helping young farmers to create jobs and wealth for themselves.
It was also heartening to learn that farmers at Rozva and Stanmore irrigation schemes had allocated plots to young people to take up farming as a business.
The young people are now growing tomatoes, onions, groundnuts, maize, bananas, sugar beans for seed production and Michigan beans which they are supplying to the Zimbabwe Super Seeds company on contract basis and beans, tomatoes, onions to Klein Karoo and Cairns Foods.
Youth involvement in agriculture must be encouraged and promoted.
Says the new FAO sub-regional coordinator for Southern Africa Dr Patrick Kormawa: “If we have young people as lead farmers, then I know we have a great future. We must involve our youth in farming. We must fight with our young people to kick out hunger and poverty.”
Our youth have the potential to revolutionise Zimbabwe’s food and agriculture sector and generate economic growth.
We need to provide them with appropriate support — education, training, credit facilities, irrigation infrastructure and equipment and markets — to unlock the largely untapped reservoir of youth population.
Zimbabwe should not be grappling with food insufficiency problems when the majority of the productive age group is there.
We must cultivate interest in this energetic age-group to take up farming. It’s a huge resource for us.
The FAO, our Government and other development partners must educate our youth about the vast opportunities in agriculture, agribusiness entrepreneurship and ICT innovations along the value chains.
Youth involvement in agriculture can contribute to improving the sector’s image, increase productivity and returns to investment and provide new employment opportunities.
With all this, it is possible to attract more young people into the agricultural sector, which is an essential driver of economic development and an area of great opportunity for youth in our country.
The Government, FAO and other development partners must help remove barriers that hinder our rural youth’s access to productive employment, adequate agricultural knowledge, information and education.
We must ensure they have access to land, inputs, financial services, markets and are involved in policy issues that affect their lives.
About 200 million people in Africa are aged between 15 and 24 and as the FAO puts it, they represent “a large potential reservoir for the growth of the agriculture sector”.
And, certainly when they are involved in agriculture, they can contribute immensely and help Africa not only to feed to itself, but to create jobs and wealth for themselves.