Reaping the benefits of practical training

Properly trained youths can make huge profits from farming and create employment for themselves and others. This the philosophy behind the ILO’s TREE project. SOFIA MAPURANGA reports.

With his T-35 truck, Ernest Tamanga believes that his community has been empowered.
With his T-35 truck, Ernest Tamanga believes that his community has been empowered.

Ernest Tamanga, 33, was one of the many unfortunate Zimbabwean youths who failed to finish school due to financial challenges.

Born to a blind father and an unemployed mother, whose only source of livelihood was working in other people’s fields for a paltry $2 a day, Tamanga’s dream of becoming a commercial farmer seemed impossible.

But thanks to the International Labour Organisation’s Rural Economic Empowerment (TREE) Programme he is now not only able to take care of his aging parents, he also employs two other youths from his community.

One of the most successful beneficiaries of the training initiative, Tamanga hopes his rags-to-riches story will inspire other youths in similar circumstances.

“I was trained in 2011 and benefitted from seed capital given to me in the form of tools the same year. As it was my very first time to venture into agriculture as a business, I did not make much profit. But I managed to increase my seed capital for the next agricultural crops that I planted,” he said. This marked the beginning of his good fortune.

He invested the proceeds from his first harvest in seeds and fertilisers to grow cucumbers, potatoes, butternuts, paprika and tomatoes.

“The marketing of the products was difficult because there was only one market for us – Mbare Musika in Harare,” he said.

He saved the money he earned from selling his produce and his next harvest improved from the previous farming season. “I realised over $1,000 from cucumbers, $3,000 from butternuts and over $3,000 from potato sales. Transporting the produce was very expensive otherwise I would have realised more,” he said

Empowered

The jovial young farmer recently bought a T-35 truck after he had realised a profit of over $8,000 from last year’s farming season.

“The truck is also used by other farmers from this community at a reasonable cost because we have transport challenges because of our very poor roads,” he said.

Tamanga revealed that for this year’s farming season, he was expecting to pocket over $10,000 from maize, potatoes, butternuts and groundnuts.

“I am going to harvest more than seven tonnes of butternuts because I managed to plant them using the expertise and skills that I got through TREE. I am expecting a bumper harvest,” he said, adding that he wanted to buy a farm in the near future.

“The land that I am farming belongs to my parents and it is not enough if I am to go commercial. It is my wish to own a farm,” he said. “The TREE initiative presented the capital for people like me who were failing to make a breakthrough in farming because of financial challenges. We lacked the expertise on how to engage in farming as a business.”

Employment

The initiative falls under the umbrella youth programme Skills for Youth Employment and Rural Development – a five-year partnership between the ILO, Danish Africa Commission and the Ministry for Youth to address youth unemployment and rural development.

It promotes access to employment opportunities and increases incomes for sustainable and inclusive growth. The economic development methodology promotes market-driven community-based technical and vocational skills development in rural areas in order to expand training and employment opportunities for disadvantaged group such as women and youths.

ILO TREE Programmes have been successfully competed in a number of developing countries. The approach differs from conventional vocational training programmes by identifying income-generating activities and related training needs before designing the contents of specific training programmes.

It involves the local community and social partners directly in each phase of the identification, design and delivery process and it facilitates the necessary post-training support, including guidance in the use of production technologies, facilitating access to credit, and providing assistance in group formation to ensure that individuals or groups can initiate and sustain income-generating activities.

Solution to poverty

“Employment creation is the quickest way out of poverty. Initially the programme sought to train and capacitate 3,250 but because of the high turnout and the smooth implementation of the program, we trained 4, 454 youths,” said Khaliq Manzoor, the ILO’s Chief Technical Advisor.

“Expectations are that the trained youths can make huge profits from farming and create employment for themselves and other youths. Their knowledge then cascades and is taught to others,” he added.

AGRITEX field officer Solomon Mukwanhiri said one of the major advantages was that it was onsite training. “Unlike in other institutions where you learn one thing by the book and then want to implement it practically, the training was a hands-on experience and the youths were motivated by seeing their plants grow,” he said

TREE targeted unemployed youths between 18-32 years and 41 percent of the beneficiaries were women.

Makoronyera

Tamanga lamented the presence of the middlemen nicknamed makoronyera, accusing them of swindling farmers from realising high profits and of stealing some of their produce.

“Their presence makes farmers’ lives very difficult. They are the ones that benefit from farmers’ sweat as they buy from us at a very low cost and sell at higher prices,” he said.

Tamanga, who employed other community members during the peak farming season, highlighted the importance of establishing processing plants to package farming produce so that subsistence farmers realise maximum profit.

“Small industries to ensure that farmers add value and package their farm produce is the next step towards creating employment for youths in the rural areas,” he said. “There are times when produce like tomatoes rot and to prevent this, these tomatoes can be canned as a way of adding value to them.”

He said setting up such industries would also improve the road networks of marginalised communities.

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