Ten years ago, the Mukute family grew maize, groundnuts, and tobacco on ten hectares of farmland in Mazowe, 60 kilometres northeast of Harare, the capital of Zimbabwe. But now, their field is almost abandoned. After their father died, the three sons left home to live in Harare, where they work as street vendors. Only Elizabeth, their 15-year-old sister, remains to help their mother on the farm.
And Elizabeth, too, dreams of leaving the village.
She says: “I can’t stay stuck here on the farm, because it requires hard labour…. If I pass my O-level [exams] next year, my mother and my brothers will have to find money for me to go for A-levels, and after that, university.”
Elizabeth doesn’t see a future for herself in Mazowe. She dreams of becoming a lawyer and hiring someone to help her mother on the farm.
About 60% of Zimbabwe’s 16 million inhabitants are under 24 years old. Villages are emptying as young people leave for urban centres, mining areas, or other countries to seek paid work. Few aspire to be farmers. And this has implications for food security.
Elizabeth’s mother, Laiza Mukute, now farms on two hectares, and is barely able to make ends meet. She can’t afford to buy a new ox cart, and she sold most of her cattle to survive.
Mrs. Mukute says, “My sons won’t hear anything about farming. They would rather be in the city, even though life is also tough for them there.”
Youth disillusionment with life in the countryside is a phenomenon that extends well beyond the borders of Zimbabwe.
Peter Wobst works on rural poverty reduction at the UN Food and Agriculture Organization. He explains: “Africa’s rural youth face particular barriers to accessing productive employment…. They have insufficient access to land, inputs, financial services, markets, and, ultimately, limited involvement in policy dialogue.”
Wonder Chabikwa is the president of the commercial farmers’ union in Zimbabwe. He says that young people have an important role to play in the future of agriculture and food security in Zimbabwe. But, he says, “Most young people do not seem to be attracted to agriculture, and the majority of those who remain to work the land do so because they lack other options.”
To interest more young people in agriculture, some experts think youth should be encouraged to grow profitable cash crops such as tobacco. But Mr. Chabikwa says the risk of that approach is that it brings in money, but not maize, which they need to eat. He warns, “If young people are jumping blindly into farming tobacco and ornamental plants, food security will suffer.”
A regional consultation on youth in agriculture in 2012 suggested that incentives such as loans specifically for youth, or developing technologies for use in agriculture, could awaken young peoples’ interest in the sector.
This story is adapted from an article called “Agriculture hard sell for Zimbabwe’s youth,” published by IRIN at the following address: http://www.irinnews.org/analysis/2017/12/27/agriculture-hard-sell-zimbabwe-s-youth, with additional files from an article titled “Inciter les jeunes à s’engager dans l’agriculture” published by Agriculture, Rural Development and Youth in the Information Society at the following address: http://ardyis.cta.int/fr/partenaires/item/166-engaging-youth-in-agriculture
Photo: Children at Mototi primary school in Zimbabwe. Credit: IRIN / Jaspreet Kindra