Young farmers find their footing in Zimbabwean agriculture

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Young farmers are making waves in Zimbabwean agriculture. They are farming successfully in a sector viewed in some circles as dull, muddy, dusty and only for older people.

By showcasing their work on social media, sharing ideas and marketing their produce under hashtags such as #ZimAgricRising, #ZimYouthsinAgriculture, #ZimYouthCan and #rimasomething (‘just grow something’ in Shona), they are making a big impression.

Terence Maphosa on setting up a poultry farm

Terence Maphosa studied towards a political science degree at the University of Zimbabwe and worked for a furniture supplier in Harare for 18 months.

While working in the city he felt restricted and underpaid, so he retreated to his rural home in Mhondoro, 170km west of the city, to start a poultry enterprise in 2017. “I was influenced by frustration,” he reflected on his decision to take up full-time farming at 24.

Four years on, the 28-year-old is now the face of an emerging cadre of young farmers in a country battling to recover its agricultural sector from the near-collapse caused by forced evictions of white farmers in the early 2000s, as well as the resulting economic stagnation.

He farms thousands of free-range Koekoek, Black Australorp, Light Sussex, Kuroiler and Jersey Giant chickens on a 6ha piece of land. He tweets most of his daily activities to his 39 500 followers. Click here to follow him.

Success as a poultry farmer

Terence’s work has not only inspired many, but it has also earned him celebrity status among the locals. He was also invited to meet with John Basera, permanent secretary at the Ministry of Lands, Agriculture, Fisheries, Water and Rural Resettlement, earlier this year. He took the opportunity to request a farm under the ongoing resettlement programme.

Terence farms Koekoek, Black Australorp, Light Sussex, Kuroila and Jersey Giant chickens. (Photograph: Terence Maphosa)

On 6 April this year, he received a letter from Basera, the most senior civil servant in the ministry, informing him that the government had awarded him the farm.

He now has three full-time employees and one who works part time. “I have supplied hundreds if not thousands of people with chicks for breeding and chickens for the pot or breeding. Some of my clients have grown bigger than me, which I find satisfying because our industry is still young. We need thousands more breeders to serve a growing local and export market,” he said.

Terence also grows maize, sunflower, sorghum and soya bean, which he formulates into feed to cut his expenses. However, since he farms on only 6ha, he still needs to buy in feed. He plans to expand to goat production on the farm he received in April, but he will keep operating his poultry farm at its current location.

“Young farmers are the future,” he said. “I see a lot of energy among the youth. They have great ideas and passion. The future of agriculture in Zimbabwe is bright.”

Harnessing young farmers’ energy and enthusiasm

Terence was only seven years old when the land redistribution process began in 2000. Many other young farmers who are doing well now, were also minors at the time, so they could not be allocated land.

In light of their success, these young farmers are pressing the government to give them farms. President Emmerson Mnangagwa has recognised their hard work. Consequently, he recently pledged to reallocate at least 10% of land being recovered from those who received more than one farm, as well as those whose properties are deemed too large for the prescribed farm sizes in the country’s five agroecological regions. These reallocations will be made to people aged 35 and younger.

Like Terence, Basera (34) made a name for himself with his eloquence and thorough knowledge of agronomy while appearing on a weekly television programme. President Mnangagwa noticed his ability and appointed him permanent secretary in November 2019.

“We have a youth bulge that we need to harness for the benefit of the economy, so we do that by creating opportunities for the youth,” Basera told Harare-based The Sunday Mail recently.

“We want to create model youth farmers and harness their energy and enthusiasm. On the policy front, we need to come up with a quota system for strategic groups such as war veterans, women, youth and the disabled. There is already a quota system for war veterans and women, but we need one for the youth,” he continued.

Downsizing farms will free up more land

According to the maximum farm-size policy, farms in region one, the wettest in the country in the eastern Manicaland region, must not exceed 250ha. Meanwhile those in the second-wettest region around Harare must not exceed 500ha.

Farms in the drier regions three, four and five must be 700ha, 1 000ha and 2 000ha. According to Tatenda Mavetera (34), downsizing farms will free up more land for young farmers.

In addition to being allocated larger plots, she said, youths deserve more technical and financial support. She grows maize and farms chickens and beef cattle in Seke, in the province of Mashonaland East, some 100km south-east of Harare. Her husband, who is also young, is a tobacco grower. “It has not only been rewarding for me but also fulfilling,” said the former film actress turned legislator and farmer.

“I think we are doing very well. We have gained so much experience over the few years we have been on the land. The success we have had as a young couple in agriculture shows what young people can do if they are given land and support not only by the government, but also by the private sector. This also shows that if we are allocated bigger pieces of land under the resettlement programme, we will not disappoint.”

The challenge of capital

The beginning is always tough, said Pardon Mhuri (35), the 2020 National Young Champion Farmer Award winner. Yet success tends to follow perseverance.

He began his farming enterprise with 2ha of tobacco on his farm in Karoi in the province of Mashonaland West, 150km west of Harare, in 2013. Now he is farming on 863ha, growing sugar beans, wheat and vegetables in addition to tobacco. Over the past eight years, the highlight for Pardon was the 300 000 tons of tobacco he produced during the 2019/20 season.

Pardon Mhuri in his tobacco field. (Photograph: Mhuri Farming)

“It is not easy at first, but good things make you sweat,” he said. “You need a lot of patience and perseverance, and you need to do everything the right way without taking shortcuts.”

However, he decried the difficulties young farmers face in trying to access capital to boost their businesses. Banks always demand collateral security, which most youths lack. Thus, they fail to access capital. The hardworking ones grow on a shoestring budget, he said, but others give up.

Young farmers can do even better

The Youth in Agriculture Apex Board (YAAB) estimates that 60% of local farmers are youths who could do much better if they only had access to bank loans. YAAB founder John Muchenje (35) said while young farmers are trending in the country now, they have always quietly been working the land.

Young farmers
John Muchenje says he has outgrown the farm he received under the government’s redistribution programme. (Photograph: John Muchenje)

The farm he received under the government-led redistribution programme is now too small for him. Like Tatenda, he hopes to get a bigger farm and easier access to bank loans.

Read about a programme to boost rural Zimbabwean families.

“Our financial institutions are living in the past,” he protests. “Youths have brilliant ideas and passion. Yet they do not have collateral for them to stand a chance of accessing loans. We do not qualify for significant loans – only small amounts of around US$1 000 (approximately R15 000).

“You can’t do much with that. We want banks to fund the project, not to continue doing things the traditional way. If that happens and land is made available, we are on the up.” – Ian Nkala, AgriOrbit