By Thomas Chidamba
AGRICULTURE has significantly contributed to the recovery of the economy of Zimbabwe, but the bulk of young farmers are still in the periphery as they are struggling to secure land and financial assistance to further their dreams. In an effort to encourage youth participation in agriculture, the Lands, Agriculture, Fisheries and Rural Resettlement ministry established a youth desk. The desk has been mandated to play a key role in agriculture. The desk now has some success stories to share. Newsday (ND) reporter Thomas Chidamba caught up with the ministry’s youth desk chief co-ordinator Nikros Kajengo to discuss the level of youth participation in agriculture.
ND: Can you highlight the mandate of the youth desk?
NK: The mandate of the youth desk is to mainstream youth in agriculture. Generally, youth mainstreaming is a strategy of integrating youth into every aspect of one’s organisation or community, including the individual perspectives, shared cultures, and throughout the systems and structures affecting young people everyday.
Mainstreaming is meant to promote efficacy, equity and empowerment for everyone involved. It’s the active, visible engagement of youth throughout the entirety of a defined institution.
Most importantly, youth mainstreaming moves young people and agro-related communities from passive to active involvement by creating space for the ability, knowledge, wisdom and power of everyone to come through all the time.
The involvement of young people in agriculture is pleasing given that it’s now clear that agriculture is the means of livelihood for many youth. Youth are active in the agricultural value chain.
ND: What are some of the success stories of the youth desk?
NK: The thrust of the new dispensation is to have an empowered society and an enhanced economy. This vision is bearing fruit because some success stories from the young farmers are already speaking to this and some of the noted progresses are:
Youth in agriculture taking a lead in programmes like Pfumvudza and Command Agriculture: Youth are now businesspeople, agro-entrepreneurs, it’s reversing the mantra that used to exist during the colonial era where the youth used to provide cheap labour to the minority white farmers, miners, and industry.
They used to be employees and now under the wise leadership of President Emmerson Mnangagwa, they are now employers and employing even the whites. Youth taking the lead in infrastructural transformation: Some youth have seen it worthwhile to construct community and own infrastructure such as dams, dip tanks, post-harvest structures and such modern innovations.
Aaron Denenga Farming in Seke, Jimmy Wilford (Mazowe), Pardon Mhuri (Karoi), Fungai Makoni (Rusape), Kezias Maruza (Rushinga), Everlisto Chekera are among the young innovators involved in the agricultural infrastructure development.
Crops like cotton and tobacco have attracted youth into agriculture. The standard of living among our young people involved in agricultural activities is improving.
They are now proud owners of assets such as cars, motorcycles, residential stands and houses.
ND: What are some of the skills that the youth have attained so far?
NK: The youth desk is also bringing in champion farmers and hardworking agro-entrepreneurs being rewarded by the authorities. Since 2017, the Presidium, specifically His Excellence President Mnangagwa and his deputies, engage and interact with hardworking youth, and results-oriented young farmers through a programme called National Young Champion Farmer Awards.
Youth are also now entering joint ventures and making use of available agricultural space.
Farmers such as Mhuri Pardon (Karoi), Tapiwa Masenda (Karoi), Brian Jonga (Mashonaland Central) are all meaningfully contributing towards agricultural production through joint ventures.
Youth in agriculture are also making use of information communication technology to advance the agricultural transformation agenda.
Simon Nyabadza, Tapiwa Chikasha are among the youthful agro-entrepreneurs who are taking smart agriculture to another level.
Drones have made spraying easier while weather forecasting has been made easier by our home-grown, Zimbabwean-made technologies by our own young people.
ND: President Mnangagwa requested your desk to assist the Mines and Mining Development ministry to establish a youth desk, what progress have you made so far?
NK: Of course, His Excellency President Mnangagwa during the Kadoma youth convention urged the Mines ministry to take some notes from us and as someone focusing on agricultural transformation, my energy is still on the agricultural sector, I cannot speak on behalf of the youth in the mining sector, neither will I poke my nose into that sector. I will keep on moving in my lane.
ND: President Mnangagwa urged your desk to establish an inclusive youth in agriculture apex council, and an interim executive was put in place. Are you likely to see a substantive elected executive?
NK: What I know is the guidance given to the youth in agriculture which is to be organised, disciplined and to contribute towards the attainment of an upper-middle income society.
As for the apex council which is a grouping of farmer associations, I cannot speak on their behalf, you may engage their management and they give clarity to some issues you have raised here.
ND: Last year President Mnangagwa offered youths 10 hectares per district countrywide for projects, any uptake so far?
NK: Indeed youths were given some 10 ha plots for use per each and every district, and it is work in progress.
In terms of enterprises, we hope and trust that the beneficiaries will choose for themselves what they like to venture into, we will never decide what to do for them, they know their geographical, business, topographical, meteorological and various needs and as such their choice for what to do is guided by those.
ND: What do you think can be done to assist young farmers obtain financial assistance considering that they do not have collateral security?
NK: In terms of financial assistance, I am of the view that they should engage institutions like Empower Bank, enter some joint ventures, and they actively take part in the entire agricultural value chains.