Lifting ourselves out of poverty

When Oliver Masiyazi graduated with a degree from Africa University in 2008, congratulatory messages poured in like confetti at a wedding. He was on his way to fulfilling his dream of becoming an accountant.

High-quality fruit and vegetables have earned the young farmer a loyal customer base.
High-quality fruit and vegetables have earned the young farmer a loyal customer base.

Three years on, however, and he still hadn’t found a job. The future looked bleak.

Rather than sitting idle, Masiyazi decided to go into horticulture to try to make a living. His uncle, Joseph Matope, took him under his wing and encouraged him to take the new venture seriously.

Using the six-hectare land belonging to his mother in Chigodora village in Mutare South, Masiyazi is now a successful farmer who specialises in tomatoes and cabbages.

“I think young people who are unemployed should look into farming to improve their lives. I am a farmer by accident, but I am now making a living out of it,” Masiyazi said.

“It is sad that the rising unemployment has taken a heavy toll on young people. We are particularly vulnerable to shocks in the labour market. Lack of opportunities to enter the world of work can condemn us to a life of economic hardship and despair,” he lamented, adding that crime and drug abuse followed all too often.

“But, I decided to trade my degree for the soil,” he said. He now employs seven people full-time and several part-timers, and his wife, Pauline, works with him as an administrator.

“My produce started being noticed for its quality and, in 2012, the local Agritex department selected me for a training programme.

“I learned about soil quality, when to plant certain crops and about growing tomatoes and cabbages, which are higher value crops.”

He attended skills training and workshops facilitated by the Ministry of Agriculture and various NGOs to learn about the business side of farming and best management practices.

“I learned about finances, communications, labour and best standards for my produce. I can say my accounting background has helped me to manage my finances very well,” he said.

Masiyazi has built a large shed to store the boxes of harvested tomatoes and cabbages, and has also acquired a pick-up truck and has employed a driver to transport the produce to Mutare city, 15km away.

He hopes to expand his operations over the coming years.

“My wish is to obtain 20 hectares of land. I am thinking of doing large-scale farming and drilling boreholes for irrigation. I hope to be up and running in the next three years,” he said, adding that farming was hard work.

“It is very challenging, but so rewarding. I think there are three main challenges for young farmers like me. Firstly, we need access to bigger land and financial services. I have been very lucky. I had my mother’s plot to start from. Not all young unemployed Zimbabweans are so fortunate. The country is redistributing its land, but it often goes to people who don’t make a living from it,” he said.

Masiyazi added that banks required security and collateral for loans.

“I have saved and have been able to use this to expand, but we need insurance and loans to help us move forward. When we take a risk, we need the government to meet us halfway in managing these costs,” he explained.

Masiyazi added that there was also need to challenge the perception that informal sector farmers like him provided poor quality produce.

“I was once told by a buyer for a big market that he wouldn’t buy tomatoes from me, a young black farmer. I had to explain to him that my plot was not a product of the Land Reform Programme, but it was a family land. He made his own investigations and it wasn’t until he was satisfied that he started buying my tomatoes and cabbages.”

Masiyazi said there was great need for access to fair markets.

“As we plan our crop, we need to be sure that it will not go to waste. We need policies that support the development of markets so that farmers can increase their harvest, earn more income and improve their families’ lives,” he explained.

“I think young people all over Zimbabwe should look to farming to improve their lives and improve our country. We are always crying about not having jobs. Why can’t we just make our own jobs?” he said.

Post published in: News
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