Eddington Gororo ACADEMIC
This article was prompted by a column that appeared in the business weekly, The Zimbabwe Independent of January 28, 2022, titled ‘Agronomist dwarfs in huge robes’
In the article agronomists were undermined and undressed. The article was based on personal experiences of the writer with agronomists. I will assume that the writer, Kudakwashe Gwabanayi is a Christian because he quoted the bible in his opinion piece. I wish to encourage Gwabanayi to pray more, or fast more, whichever pleases him or makes the Lord hear his prayers so that he becomes lucky and meets a good agronomist in his field of endeavour because they are there.
Sure, Gwabanayi must have one or two success stories about agronomists but unfortunately he decided to ignore them. Our minister, Dr Anxious Masuka is a graduate of agriculture and has done wonders for himself and the country in the short space of time he has taken over the ministry. The permanent secretary is a renowned agriculturist who was employed in the private sector working for Seed Co.
It is therefore not debatable that agriculture is a noble profession. In the hierarchy of needs, food is basic and indispensable. Agricultural training is meant to impart the necessary knowledge, skills and attitude for graduates to organise and convert production resources – land, labour and capital – into food, feed, fibre and industry raw materials.
The land reform programme that started at the beginning of this millennium changed the face of agriculture in Zimbabwe. The programme failed to prioritise the country’s trained and experienced agriculture human capital in land allocation. As a result, those trained in the science and practice of agriculture lack access to the most important resource for their trade, the land.
However, they still have a lot to contribute in the agriculture value chain. They can be allocated their own pieces of land to farm, work as farm managers, or enter joint ventures and partnerships with landholders. Some of the most productive commercial farms are run by or enlist the services of professionals.
Some landholders do not seem to value the expertise and experience of professional agriculturists. Resistance to the government directive for all A2 farms to engage professional farm managers is evident among farmers.
In that piece, the writer, a journalist-cum-farmer, criticises professional agriculturists as lacking commitment, loyalty and honesty, and causing huge losses for farm businesses. He used his experiences with a total of six crop scientists to justify his loss of confidence in agricultural professionals.
While admitting existence of good agronomists, the author submits that it is rare to get the full package in a new farm manager. One professional may be good at planning, but poor at execution. Another may be good at planting and managing the crop, and clueless about harvesting and getting it to the market. And yet another may be very sharp with postharvest and marketing.
His advice to other farmers is to stop engaging farm managers, or to engage them on a pay-per-visit arrangement. The author ended the article by venting his frustrations at local agriculturists, describing them as “dwarfs in huge robes”.
As a member of the Coalition of Agricultural Graduates of Zimbabwe (CAGOZ), whose call on social media prompted the article, I have listened to colleagues’ conversations and experiences on the farms. Some stories make interesting reading while others are depressing.
Employment terms for managers and other professionals on most farms can be described as exploitative. Complaints about ill-treatment, poor remuneration, failure by farmers to deliver on their promises, and acrimonious dismissals are too numerous to chronicle.
I have heard of farm managers that were fired, often on trumped up charges, once the crop was now ready for the market. That way, the farmer would be running away from paying the manager his dues in production bonus, or a share of the profit. In some instances, farmers expect managers to produce without resources, leading to frustrations. Other managers complain that farmers use their relatives on the farm to police and frustrate them.
There seems to be a lot of distrust between the current crop of farmers and farm management professionals. Such employer-employee relations point to the need for greater representation, cooperation and organisation of the profession. The farmers need to appreciate and appropriately remunerate these professionals for their services and expertise. On their side, professionals and experts must honour their side of the bargain by being versatile, tolerant and results oriented. Managers are employed to solve problems and navigate through huddles to reach the business’ end-goal, even under seemingly difficult circumstances.
The world is evolving in terms of production conditions, production systems, technology, legislation and market requirements. Continued professional development post-college is no longer a luxury, but a necessity. Graduates who remain stuck with today’s knowledge and technology will find it difficult to deal with emerging challenges and exploit new opportunities in the future.
CAGOZ was founded in 2017 and registered in 2018 under the Deeds Registries Act (Chapter 20.05) as a membership association for agriculture professionals in Zimbabwe. In 2020, the association was registered as a pro-farmer organisation with the Ministry of Lands, Agriculture, Water and Rural Development. CAGOZ was founded for the purpose of harnessing the country’s agricultural brain power and scientific expertise in order to build highly productive, profitable and sustainable farm businesses for a food secure nation.
The association seeks to bring vibrancy on commercial farms, create employment, and make the country food secure through effective utilisation of land, resources and the agricultural graduate constituency. Members benefit from the association’s activities through representation, continued professional development, and strategic alliances and partnerships with industry stakeholders.
Partnerships forged include arrangements related to financing, leases, joint ventures and contract production. These activities are meant to unlock the value and potential of the country’s God given lands and natural resources.
Contrary to the negative criticism of CAGOZ in the article highlighted above, the association envisions a proactive and nationally recognised professional organisation committed to ensuring distinctive competence of its members for a competitive and sustainable agriculture sector. Members are capacitated to proactively address emerging opportunities and challenges in agriculture in Zimbabwe.
By turning agricultural dwarfs into giants, who can deliver under whatever circumstances, value is delivered not only to the professionals, but also to farmers, and benefits cascade to other value-chain actors and the entire industry. This way, agriculture could become a win-win situation for all.
GORORO IS AN AGRICULTURIST, SCIENTIST AND ACADEMIC WORKING FOR CHINHOYI UNIVERSITY OF TECHNOLOGY. HE IS ALSO A REGULAR MEMBER OF THE COALITION OF AGRICULTURAL GRADUATES OF ZIMBABWE (CAGOZ) AND ITS AFFILIATE, THE ZIMBABWE AGRICULTURE THINK TANK (ZATT)