HomeCommentEmbracing women, youths in agric during Covid pandemic and beyond

Embracing women, youths in agric during Covid pandemic and beyond

The rains that have blessed the country in the past few months have brought some hope to many families as they are likely to produce enough to eat and even for trading.

Tariro Chivige

Though the case may be, it is discouraging to note that there might still be need for the country to import some agricultural produce in order for the government to be able to feed the whole population up until the end of the next farming season. Zimbabwe with an estimated 33,3 million hectares set for agricultural purposes, still is not able to produce enough for its population’s needs.

Women and the youth have for a long time played a silent and peripheral role in agriculture, but a new generation of women and youth farmers is taking up space.

There has been a sudden shift of things in the past years as more women and youths are now seen in commercial farming, including in positions of influence.

In the rural areas, women and the youth are mainly the backbone of the labour force in agriculture, though however, they mainly work as subsistence farmers or as casual workers.

The National Gender Profile of Agriculture, highlighted that rural women constitute about 70% of household labour in rural areas and 37% of the formal labour force participation while of the total number of people employed in agriculture, fishery and forestry is 3 573 893 and of this, 45,4% are men while 54,6% are women.

According to the Food and Agriculture Organisation, more than 10 million young people are expected to enter the labour market every year for the next decade in Africa. This number is unsustainable even for those countries that are doing economically well on the continent. This growing youth population, especially in developing countries, represents a great opportunity for harnessing a demographic dividend, but also economic and social challenges, which could lead to political instability or conflict.

With the emergence of the Covid-19 pandemic, all the efforts and the progress that were being made in creating decent livelihoods for the youth and women have been eroded as most firms have been forced to scale down operations while others have had to close.

In light of the above, it is imperative to design inclusive and sound age and gender-responsive policies and legislation which support investments in employment creation, formalisation and adoption of labour standards for women and the youth thereby providing equal opportunities for them.

It is also important to ensure they both have access to quality jobs with decent working conditions, including a living wage, health and safety at work, on-the-job training and access to social protection.

According to FAO, “If women had the same access to productive resources as men, they could increase yields on their farms by 20-30% and this could raise total agricultural output in developing countries by 2,5-4%, which could in turn reduce the number of hungry people in the world by 12-17%.”

This should then motivate those in authority to come up with the necessary measures which promote the taking up of commercial farming activities by women, especially those in rural areas who already have some land available to them.

The decent rains that have been experienced in the country during this season should be an anchor on which women and the youth stand on to improve their lives. Most of the dams in the country have been filled to excess capacity.

This is the time the government and interested stakeholders should implement programmes which are aimed at taking advantage of the available natural waters to better the lives of the target group.

In order to harness the possibilities offered by the demographic and gender dividend, deliberate efforts are needed to empower women and the youth through equal access to productive resources and services, as well as by providing them with decent employment and income-generating opportunities.

At a policy level, empowering the target group is a key area of action to assist our country in creating more sustainable and inclusive agricultural systems, while also including them in the design and development of post-pandemic measures.

The government should now, as a matter of urgency, foster a holistic approach with policies and interventions which enhance the development of youth and women skills and experience to work in agriculture as a productive business, whilst providing the necessary credit, financial support and equal access to inputs and markets for young men and women.

Programmes which are aimed at supporting winter farming activities, which can  take advantage of the water levels in the dams, should be crafted and implemented so as to make sure that the benefits received this year from the abundant rains are fully utilised.

Focus can be put especially on those crops and vegetables that are normally imported into the country for example peas, carrots etc.  The cereal farmers market can also be tapped into as cereals are estimated to be around 2,9% of the country’s total imports.

Apart from providing sufficient food to households, such projects also stand to provide employment opportunities, especially to those residing in the rural areas.

The production of small grains as well as other types of crops like sweet potatoes will also aid in employment creation and increase food production in the country.

Small grains and localised production in the country continue to be constrained by the absence of effective and affordable processing equipment thus many growers shun their production.  Over 70% of households that sell maize, wheat, sorghum and millet do so in their local markets, mainly to other households. Increasing the production of such in the rural areas can open up more markets for the small-scale farmers.

Although this is desirable in order to reduce grain prices at the local level, initiatives must be developed so farmers can also access the best possible market returns.

Financial support should also be given so as to encourage and promote the taking up of agriculture especially during the non-agriculture season. Financial support and subsidies should be provided to youth associations, cooperatives and businesses to minimise the crippling effects of over-taxation for those that would want to go the formal route.

In the long run, in order to prepare for the same period in the coming years, the introduction of incentives in the form of subsidies and tax breaks, specifically for young people and women can encourage employment and a career in agriculture.

Minimum capital intensive farming projects should also be introduced and supported in order to benefit from the natural rains.

These will assist because while looking for donors or the funds to fund those projects which require much capital investments, the target group can start by doing something that will not cost much to get off the ground while also getting a reasonable return from it.

The government should also aid by creating simplified trade regimes and removal of red tape to encourage small-scale cross-border trade and increase the ability of entrepreneurs and micro enterprises to take advantage of trading opportunities.

Such a scheme is being done in the Honde Valley area, where small-scale coffee growers have come up together and are working together with big coffee companies in the country who act as intermediaries and export the coffee on behalf of the farmers.

Chivige is an economist. These weekly New Horizon articles are coordinated by Lovemore Kadenge, an independent consultant, past president of the Zimbabwe Economics Society  and past president of the Institute of Chartered Secretaries and Administrators in Zimbabwe. Email: kadenge.zes@gmail.com/ cell: +263 772 382 852

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