Planning for the future: Young people in agriculture

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? 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?

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. Many agree that election violence in Kenya was also linked to youth dissatisfaction and land issues.

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 ones who 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 keep 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? –

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