Young Zimbabwean farmers lead the charge in agriculture as new finance and land policies help spark interest and innovation
Audrey Simango: Sierra Leone Telegraph: August 21, 2021:
Agriculture in Zimbabwe is booming and young people are the driving force. For example, the country is expected to harvest 2.8 million tonnes of maize this year, triple the 2020 crop and make it the highest production in 20 years.
The bumper harvest expected in 2021 should finally ensure a food surplus in Zimbabwe, Information Minister Monica Mutsvangwa said in June. Just over a year ago, the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) distributed $ 86.9 million to boost food security in the country.
About 57% of Zimbabwean women aged 20-31 and 47% of men in the same age group grow fruits such as mangoes, participate in cattle ranching like the prolific herders of Boer goats, and cultivate tobacco, corn, etc. .
President Emerson Mnangagwa, who took the reins of government in November 2017, adopted policies to attract young and educated people to agriculture while at the same time attracting many white farmers who had settled in Australia, in South Africa and the UK following the seizure of their land around two decades ago.
(Photo: Terrence Maphosa with his corn crop)
The president has pledged to provide 99-year land leases to white farmers and has guaranteed the safety of those who wish to return home. Returning white farmers are teaming up with their black counterparts, including young black farmers, leading to a healthy exchange of capital, skills, and machinery.
In addition, Zimbabwe’s structural economic transformation from traditional office and factory jobs to informal entrepreneurship is now spreading to the agricultural sector, attracting the attention of young farmers.
(Photo: Terrence Maphosa with his poultry. Photo credit: Terrence Maphosa)
âWe are seeing a favorable mindset for young farmers in government, which is sending positive signals,â says Gift Mawacha, an agricultural historian at Chimanimani High School in eastern Zimbabwe, the country’s most fertile agricultural belt. “And the young people say ‘hey, we are unemployed but there is money to grow potatoes and flowers’.”
âMy generation trained as an accountant and social worker. Zimbabwean universities train thousands of students each year, but there are only a handful of civil service or corporate jobs for the unemployed, âsays Itai Sedze, 29, a sociologist who now occupies the cultivation of corn.
The government’s pro-agriculture mentality is anchored in a program called “Pfumvudzaâ(Which meansâ Revolution of Master Farmers â) through which it provides funding grants to young farmers.
Researcher Eddy Maseya describes Pfumvudza as a climate-proof concept that takes advantage of âconservation agriculture techniques to make the most of small plots of landâ.
Supported by the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO), Pfumvudza consists of âminimal disturbance or tillage; have permanent soil cover by using organic mulch and by using crop rotations and intercropping cover crops with the main crops â, according to The Consortium of Agriculture of the Future, an alliance of research organizations seeking to improve agriculture in Africa.
Zimbabwean youth clings to this concept of sustainable agriculture.
For example, Prosper Bvunzawabaya, 31, returned to Zimbabwe to grow fruit after graduating with a graduate degree in finance from Southern Methodist University in Dallas, Texas, USA.
He says, âMy land is small, but I use every hectare to its fullest. He started by planting 300 mango trees but hopes to reach his goal of 5,000 trees soon. âI use a species of mango called Tommy Atkins. This fruit species is in great demand abroad. I decided to grow mangoes after reading about growing avocado in New Zealand.
Prosper currently has seven employees, including two university graduates.
Other young farmers are applying innovative techniques in agriculture. Milton Zhakata, 36, mixes Boer goats from neighboring South Africa with native goats.
(Photo: John Muchenje at his vegetable farm. Photo credit: John Muchenje)
âBoer goat meat is a money printing machine,â he enthuses. Milton, who has six employees, started with 25 goats and is now approaching 300. Boer goats can weigh up to 200 kg each.
âBoer goats are prolific breeders. The mother has a superb ability to educate to ensure that few offspring die, âsays Pardon Mundeta, a retired agronomist. “They give birth to twins, triplets, quads.”
Itai credits social media for popularizing agriculture among young people. âSocial media arrived and we started seeing on Twitter and Instagram inspiring photos of young Zimbabwean graduates in mud, in boots, growing acres of onions, tomatoes and carrots and doing booming business,â says -he.
However, not all young farmers have access to finance. Those without land titles find it difficult to secure financial support, and banks and insurance companies are reluctant to fill the void. When financing is available for this group, the interest rates are usually very high.
A 2020 study by Tobacco Control, which conducts tobacco research, found that around 60% of Zimbabwean tobacco farmers were in debt.
“Without title deeds, it is practically impossible to access first-rate bank financing,” laments Prosper.
Zimbabwean farmers also typically face punitive climatic droughts, outbreaks of livestock diseases and the preference of local supermarkets for foreign produce.
In addition, without adequate storage facilities, an oversupply of produce, especially fruit and vegetables, often lowers prices, drastically reducing farmers’ incomes.
Despite these obstacles, young Zimbabwean farmers believe they are making progress. âOur agriculture is on the rise, and young people are running it this time around. The future is definitely bright, âsays Prosper.
For more information on COVID-19, visit www.un.org/coronavirus