Agriculture has been the mainstay of the economy and also contributes a significant fraction to the GDP of Zimbabwe. It has evolved from a necessity for production of food for the subsistence of families to an industrialised business that produces raw materials that are processed into food, feed, fuel, or industrial products.
Ronald Rusere & Sayid Ali Kativu,Agric Graduates
Agriculture and the manufacturing industry in Zimbabwe are closely integrated and increasing agricultural production with an aim of surpassing subsistence level needs is vital in the generation of surplus produce to support the non-agricultural sector, hence reviving and promoting economic growth.
Albert Einstein, in a famous quote, once said: “We cannot solve our problems with the same thinking we used when we created them.” Agriculture being the foundation to the success of our economy there is need to acknowledge that agriculture is a knowledge-based economy highlighting the need for agricultural training and education. Food security continues to be an important and pressing contemporary issue in Zimbabwe.
The issue of food security in the country will not improve until we prioritise and acknowledge the role of crop sciences/ agronomy in food security. Zimbabwe now houses a lot of universities and colleges with some of them offering tertiary level training in agricultural sciences and natural resources management. Despite being endowed with these many facilities and producing young graduates in agriculture, who have the necessary skills to improve agricultural productivity, we find ourselves in a situation of “high food drain”. A situation in which we also have “an income level which is so low and a large chunk of our country’s income is required for food imports”.
Without a doubt agricultural education and training has proven to be a crucial key, yet a much-ignored component of agricultural development in Zimbabwe. There is a growing number of graduates having difficulties in finding employment each year and consequently the country is coupled with high “educated unemployment”, as a result of a mismatch between higher education output and labour market requirements and an underperforming economy. This tragic situation is neither new nor is it improving as the overwhelming evidence suggests.
As graduates we also want to be entrepreneurs (agro-entrepreneurs) and contribute towards employment creation, but we also need land in order to put into practice the skills we acquired from university/college and contribute towards the development of the nation. In many instances, the youth are portrayed as a problem that needs to be addressed; young graduates, not only in agriculture, want to be part of the solution, not the problem. We want to revive agriculture for what it truly is, Zimbabwe’s engine for growth as it was before.
However, we are constantly told that graduates lack necessary skills for employment and which also contradicts with another constant we are told, that we should create jobs despite the hard economic conditions prevailing and large companies closing. We also want to create jobs, we did modules on entreprenuership, we also have ideas to transform the agriculture sector, but are constantly excluded.
We know of our fellow colleagues (crop science graduates) a group of five crop science graduates who once visited the Ministry of Lands and Rural Resettlement with the intention of applying for land, only to be told that there was no more land available and they should rent from other farmers. Given how people are sceptical in investing on property or land which is not theirs can prove to be a hindrance in promoting productivity on farms. Surely, logic would not allow a tenant to erect a fence around a house that does not belong to him and such is a perceived risk in renting farms.
Fellow colleagues, holders of BSc degrees in Agriculture, are working in fast-food outlets yet the country is in serious need of these people as the agricultural situation suggests.
Youths with higher education training in agriculture are a necessary human resource that will stimulate science-based technology innovation in the country. It is saddening to see agriculture graduates end up in jobs that are non-agricultural, which they are not trained for yet the current situation clearly highlights their importance.
The case of the N7 farmers in Cape Town, South Africa is testament to the abilities of agricultural graduates in Zimbabwe. The untapped capacity for creativity and innovation by graduate youths in agriculture is wasted when they are not active participants in the mainstream agricultural economy. Involving young agricultural graduates is all important in this effort to enable agriculture to be driven by Zimbabwe’s brightest and best, who are ambitious and eager to make a difference, passionate about the agricultural transformation, and visionaries of an aid-dependence free and prosperous Zimbabwe.
In order to regain our lost status as “the breadbasket of Africa” it is not enough to attend to the symptoms of the crisis we have in agriculture, but rather it is of importance to tackle the profound causes of these symptoms. To do that, it is necessary to have recourse to prioritising agricultural sciences which have an enormous role in transforming agriculture in the country.
First, it is important to take into account that human capital in agriculture has been depleted by long neglect and this has resulted in an exodus of among our brightest graduates to neighbouring countries. Improvements in agricultural productivity and food security in Zimbabwe hinges on tying down these graduates who possess an indigenous scientific capacity and training.
Considering the role that agronomy should play in the revival of our agricultural sector, it is disturbing to note how far away we are from this agricultural reality. To what extent are those who in charge of agriculture are unaware of the wealth of knowledge we are exporting to neighbouring countries and the tremendous role in boosting the economy of neighbouring countries.
The development of agriculture in some southern African countries has been anchored mainly on domestic human capital, with Zimbabwean youths playing their fair share in such development. Such is owed to our unmatched capacity to export a capable, educated agricultural labour force into its neighbouring countries such as South Africa, Swaziland, Zambia, Malawi, Botswana and Namibia. This labour force we export includes agricultural economists, agronomists, agricultural policy specialists, animal scientists, land surveyors, and developers to name a few.
The money government gets from exporting labour does not equate to the role these graduates play in boosting the economies of neighbouring counties. The same cannot be said about our country’s capacity to import a significant human capital force from our counterparts; which in abstract terms is far-fetched. The country’s inability to absorb its very own agricultural human capital into an economically active population is even a greater and worrying matter; even more so for the youth.
Despite this richness in human capital, its value and key role in agriculture, Zimbabwean agriculture is lagging behind. We mostly certainly are “beggars sitting on a beach of gold”. To say the least, we export human capital to our neighbouring nations, who produce and contribute to the food security of those nations and in return we import food from the surplus stocks of those nations to meet our own food security needs. Put simply, we subsist mainly on trickle-down, left-over benefits from our very own human capital because we cannot seem to be empowered enough as the nation’s greatest force to drive and develop agriculture as everyone visions.
The trends in Zimbabwe are a great stir of worry, reflecting that the agricultural sector is not developing and progressing fast enough towards the milestone everyone and especially the majority of youths in agriculture envision, retaining the agricultural superpower title among African agrarian-based economies, which is becoming the continent’s breadbasket once again. It goes without saying that the marginalisation of young agriculture graduates in Zimbabwe’s agriculture turns the vision into a fairy tale. It would seem, that the role of young graduates in agriculture and food security of the country has been overlooked, or has been given little attention. Overlooked in terms of youth’s inclusion, especially in agricultural land ownership.
It is safe to say that agricultural land and its ownership in Zimbabwe has left too little room for youths to be as active primary producers and productive in agriculture. As much as the government is of the idea that the land reform and ownership is closed, such is to the further disadvantages of the youth. Upon inquiry into why agricultural graduates (those privileged to find little capital) diverted into other trades that are not agriculture-based for investment (especially in relation to infrastructure), the case is so due to lack of support and investment security, especially of infrastructure and risks associated with establishing land whose tenure and security was unclear. It all comes back to the issue of a tenant and his limited privileges to develop a homestead where the landlord may wake up one day deciding that the tenant has to vacate.
In light of the recent comments by Higher Education minister Professor Jonathan Moyo that “graduates lack skills”, it is needless for us as young agriculture graduates to dwell into the scope of agronomy/crop science, soil and animal science the scientific, technical and research aspects that are incorporated into our curricula so as to justify the skills we have. However, we do understand and can also note that even a medical practitioner would not perform auscultation, give a diagnosis and prescription of treatment on that basis only without further inquiry and knowledge of anatomy, physiology, reproduction and the compromises or deviations therein. In the same vein, one should not be quick to generalise the issue of Zimbabwean graduates and formulate a diagnosis, and propose projects and policies of agricultural development without being grounded in a systematic knowledge of the field, and dynamics of different sorts within the agricultural systems.
If the essential problem of the Zimbabwean economy today truly lies in the underperformance of the agricultural sector, then the solution to this crisis necessarily lies in a formulating co-ordinated policies that would allow young agricultural professionals to become active and productive participants. These policies must be in line to end the exodus of agricultural graduates from the country, by way of domestic motivation and incentivisation of these young graduates to stay in agriculture and in the country in the long run.
Agricultural innovativeness also requires drawing on new energy and new sources of inspiration and leadership, particularly through tapping from the youth. Self-sustenance is easy to achieve, but it requires dogged commitment from the top, through leadership and vision that is required to bring about an agriculture that includes these young graduates, not marginalise them. Let us not downplay the critical role played by the country’s universities and agricultural colleges in creating a pipeline of talent and generating scientific discovery and the skills students learn which prove invaluable, particularly for agriculture.
Rusere and Kativu are BSc Horticulture Honours degree graduates from Midlands State University. They can be contacted on firstname.lastname@example.org and email@example.com
To be continued next week.