Young farmers as custodians of transformation

An Interview by Claudia Jordan
How can rural economies become viable and modern? William Madudike, youth representative of the Zimbabwe Farmers Union (ZFU) and a potato farmer himself, examines this question. He argues that the whole rural economy and actors from producers to consumers need to be considered. An interview on the initiative role of youth.

The conversation about agriculture and food systems is a conversation about young people. © GIZ Toni-Kaatz-Dubberke

By William Madudike

William Madudike is a potato farmer with 12 hectares of land he rents together with his partners. The 29-year-old Zimbabwean is the National Youth Chairperson of the Zimbabwe Farmers Union.

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By Deutsche Gesellschaft für Internationale Zusammenarbeit (GIZ)

GIZ

The Deutsche Gesellschaft für Internationale Zusammenarbeit (GIZ) is a globally active provider of international cooperation for sustainable development. It has more than 50 years of experience in a wide range of fields.  

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William, what are your thoughts on a transformation of food and agricultural systems?

The most important thing is to look at farming and food as a system and a value chain rather than as individual production. We also have to transform how we think of conventional farming and farming practices, as well as conventional processing, conventional consumption. It's something that I think is worth spending time and resources. We have to ensure that we are on the same page across the world.

 

What are the main challenges in your country regarding food and agricultural systems?

In addition to challenges with financing, access to knowledge and land, we have a highly inflationary economy in Zimbabwe. We have a less predictable economic environment which sometimes makes it difficult for us to plan. In this context of inflation that is soaring around the 200 percent, it’s quite difficult as a young farmer, especially if you want to start a business.

 

What about the access to land for young farmers?

Most of the land was given out in 2000 when the youth of now was still very young. At that point it was all going mostly to our parents or our grandparents. Sometimes, you find a family that doesn’t have agricultural land in terms of big spaces of land. But they rent and lease land. The government facilitates it if you want to rent underutilized or unused farming land. If you agree with the landowner, the government can certify and put a stamp on it to acknowledge that they know where you are farming, and they support your initiatives. So, land access in small ways for young people is way improved than it was before 2000.

 

It is also imperative to not only look at the rural people as the needy ones that need hand-outs, but as economic players who have the ability to change national, regional and global economies.

 

During the Partners for Change conference in June in Berlin, you discussed ways to strengthen rural areas, including employment, livelihoods and social protection. What are the perspectives of young farmers in Zimbabwe in this regard?

I believe that we need to ensure that the rural economy is viable and fashionable. It should provide infrastructure such as roads which facilitate farming and other businesses like logistics and agritourism. Then, internet supporting infrastructure would ensure that every rural resident is in some ways just as good as anyone in the urban areas. The Internet levels the playing field not only between urban and rural but also in some cases between North and South. Once you have the Internet, you’re able to attend an online school, enroll for free courses, and access the same knowledge as someone in Germany. We need a transition of business from predominantly urban areas into our rural areas. That requires us to radically shift our approach helping farmers only to looking at the whole rural economy and the players that complete the farm to fork value chain. It is also imperative to not only look at the rural people as the needy ones that need hand-outs, but as economic players who have the ability to change national, regional and global economies. Apart from the food they already produce, they are energy producers, producers of construction and clothing raw materials that are the basic needs of all humanity. And they are at the centre of dealing with climate change.

 

How do you with your organisation address the youth and convince them of being a farmer?

First of all we have to demonstrate that we need farmers, and we need most importantly young farmers. About 70 percent of the population are below 35 years old and our continent will be even younger in the future. And we as young people have a bigger opportunity to view farming as a clear employment and business opportunity than for example the older generation who sometimes view farming as a retirement plan. We also have to demonstrate, that there are young people doing well in farming, so that other young people can then begin to perceive farming as a viable career and business option. It’s one of the things that we do, being involved in different community initiatives. There, we gather the young people and inform them. We also offer capacity building so that they can grow a proper business. We’re showing them the possibilities of being able to have a satisfying career and life with farming.

 

How can the German government support farmer organisations as yours more in the future?

We need support in capacity building, training of skills on how to be properly organised, to be able to harness the views of farmers for effective advocacy. To develop and sustain accountable institutions that are agile enough to cater for the complex and ever-changing needs of farmers. To be able to harness the power of numbers to build global businesses and confront global challenges. As farmers’ organisation, we need the financial capacity to enable business growth among our farmers, until they are able to sustain themselves. I cannot overemphasize the need for opening market channels to Germany or Europe for our farmers to access these lucrative markets.

 

The conversation about agriculture and food systems is a conversation about young people.

 

You want to empower farmers to become more financially independent?

Yes, so that could start with an actual financing part. The goal is not to be dependent on it again, but to kick-start the process by which we get the farmers themselves to be financially viable. So, if our farms are doing well, the union itself is self-sustaining. For me, that would be the goal. With the SACAU Young Leaders Incubation Programme (YLIP) in partnership with Andreas Hermes Akademie (AHA), we as young farmer leaders, we received invaluable skills in entrepreneurship. Such skills and knowledge transfer would be helpful in developing farmers' business capacity to create wealth and benefit from any financing they receive.

 

Where do you see the role of young farmers in transforming food and agricultural systems?

We know that this is a process that will take years, so it is really important to start with young people, because they are the ones who will be able to follow through the whole process. We are not only initiators, we’re part of that process for the next 40 to 60 years to come. I really think that the conversation about agriculture and food systems is a conversation about young people. Because it's us – we will be for years pushing this agenda seeing the change that is happening. We will tell the next generation of farmers and young people where we are and what initiatives we have to go to. So, I really think we as young people we’re the custodians of the transformation agenda now and in the future.

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