Young people and agriculture

The Future Agricultures Consortium has just finished its annual conference, and the focus on was on youth and agri-food systems.  The big question is how is the next generation going to engage in agriculture? Will they repeat what their forefathers did and take over (part of) the family farm? Or will they abandon farming, seeing a brighter future in the city, working in industries or the civil service? Or will they engage in farming and food systems in new ways, not replicating what their parents did, but using their improved education, their technological skills and their business acumen?

There were no clear answers to these questions across the papers presented. Of course, it all depends. But the debates did highlight some important issues for the Zimbabwe context.

–          How does education help young people gain skills for engaging with agriculture?

–          What type of technology development will allow for added value creation?

–          How can agriculture maintain a labour-absorbing role in growing economies?

–          Will the consolidation of farms in large scale units create more opportunities for skilled labour for young people, compared to small scale farming?

–          How can young people gain access to land in settings where land is scarce and controlled by the older generation?

–          How are gender relations changing in the next generation, and how is this affecting demand for land and engagement in agriculture.

–          If agriculture does not provide gainful employment/livelihoods what are the risks of conflict?

Examples from across Africa highlighted the dangers of not addressing youth employment. The consequences can be dire, including mass violence exacerbated by ethnic and political conflict. We have seen this in Sierra Leone, where the youth joined armed gangs which helped foment a civil war. The election violence in Kenya many agree was also linked to youth dissatisfaction and land issues. Yet also the conference highlighted the opportunities unleashed by young people, with new skills and capacities, getting engaged in agriculture.

A review of policy issues from across Africa shows that, while everyone is happy to talk about ‘youth’ as a category, there are virtually no policies directed to the relationship between agriculture and food systems. The wider social, economic and political dimensions are simply not addressed. And young people’s own views, perceptions and aspirations are rarely taken into account.

What of Zimbabwe? In our Masvingo study, we found that younger people were critical in the land invasions of 2000. They were the people that were able to leave home, join the ‘jambanja’, set up camp at the bases, and endure the hardships that the land occupations entailed. The result was that the A1 farms had overall a younger, better educated profile than the nearby communal areas. The A1 small-scale farms contrasted too with the A2 farms which tended to have older households, as they gained land through application (and patronage) and were not involved in the invasions.

The A1 farmers demonstrate that there was certainly a demand for land among younger people living in the communal areas. Many had inherited vanishingly small plots from their parents, and were finding it difficult to make a living. Many talked of the difficulty of continuing to be reliant on parents, only having a hectare or less to farm, and the challenges of establishing a family (or even getting married). With the economy in decline, and options for jobs in town or in the mines shrinking, joining the land invasions made much sense. A new, if uncertain and risky, opportunity opened up, and they grabbed it in large numbers. And it was not just young men who joined the invasions. Younger women were also part of the invaders, eager to stake their claim to land as independent farmers. In the communal areas, the patriarchal institutions of land allocation and inheritance often only allowed them land through marriage. But those who sought greater independence, or who had separated or divorced, could seek opportunities in the new resettlements with their young families.

However, A1 farmers who established homes in 2000 may have been in their 20s, but now are in their 30s. With many ‘accumulating from below’ they have invested in social reproduction and accumulated assets. There is now a further generation wanting land. New land invasions in the past years have often involved younger people, eager to gain land before it is too late. Sometimes, it is reported, their parents have invaded land on their behalf, staking a claim for the next generation. With the youth absent, perhaps border jumping to South Africa or in a temporary job in town, those who are resident can grab the opportunity and join a new invasion.

But there are clear limits to this process. There are fewer and fewer opportunities for further redistribution of land, and the government keeps insisting that the process of land invasion must cease (although larger scale land grabs continue). The police are sent and evictions occur. So what hope is there for the new post-land reform generation, and the generations that will follow them? Are there new opportunities as new value chains are created, and new linkages between farm enterprises are made.

In our book, we argue that in the new rural economy, there has been a radical reshaping not only of land ownership and use but economic relations. This offers many opportunities for value addition, marketing, transport and service support for the new agriculture. Also, with a new rural economic geography, there are real additionalities to be gained by the connections between A1 and A2 and the new resettlements and the old communal areas. Trade, exchange and business opportunities can open up if a territorial approach to economic development takes place. This is happening at the margins, but needs greater support and impetus.

Perhaps it is in this context of a reconfigured pattern of economic growth that in the longer term ‘youth’ will make the greatest contribution. For, even if they do not own land, they can engage in a revitalised agricultural economy that is not controlled by large farms and enterprises and where value chains exist where new entrepreneurs with new skills can enter. To make this happen, not only must investment in economic planning and growth occur at territory level, but education and support systems for youth must be fundamentally regeared.

Here, then, is a fantastic opportunity for the reevaluation of aid efforts in Zimbabwe.


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3 responses to “Young people and agriculture

  1. Pingback: Greatest hits. Your favourite posts in the past year | zimbabweland

  2. Pingback: Young people and agriculture « activecityzen

  3. Hi Im an example of young female farmer (under 30!) taking advantage of the vast arable land that is in Zimbabwe. I have a small horticulture project i recently started venturing in otherwise, my focus is on my piggery and my mushrooms (button and oyster). There is a big market for all these products and have found it to be a great source of income. 0779572207 Please contact me if you want to train in any of these or want to buy any of my produce.

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