KELLY NJOMBO, Lusaka
FOR Zambia to achieve a sustainable and resilient agriculture sector, it is important for the country to implement programmes to attract youths who should take up opportunities in shaping up farming as a business.
Over the years, there have been appeals on how Government and the private sector should change the mind-set of youths to enable them to venture into agriculture and agribusiness sub-sectors to contribute to job creation, boost income and food security.
However, despite agriculture offering vast unexploited opportunities, the sector is characterised by various challenges such as lack of access to affordable finance, bureaucracy in acquiring land, lack of access to farming inputs and ready markets as well as insufficient knowledge on modern farming techniques.
Therefore, it is evident that much needs to be done in repositioning the agriculture sector to make it more attractive to youths.
Recently, Government announced that K48 million has been set aside under the Plan for Youth Empowerment and Employment (PYEE) programme for various support initiatives including agriculture.
Government is also acquiring land under the land empowerment scheme targeting youths interested in venturing into agriculture.
In line with this development, immediate past minister of Agriculture Dora Siliya urged youths to develop interest in the farming business by venturing into agriculture as it offers vast opportunities to generate income and promote food security.
Ms Siliya believes that there is a huge market for young people, and this calls for change in the mindset to reposition the country on the international market.
“We believe that we can position Zambia as a country that offers vast opportunities for young people. We need to change the perception of Zambia on the international market to enable the country develop strong business linkages,” she observed.
It is clear, that the development and creation of incentives in the agriculture sector should be prioritised to reduce challenges and make it more attractive to youths.
To address some of the cited challenges, Government has been urged to implement deliberate policies and developmental programmes to encourage youths to venture into the agriculture value chains.
The National Union for Small-scale Farmers Association of Zambia (NUSFAZ) observes that with increased support and new opportunities from Government and the private sector, youths could take up the advantage of venturing into the farming business to generate income and create employment.
Furthermore, union president Frank Kayula expressed sadness that majority youths do not want to be subjected to old farming methods, hence the need to provide them with access modern farming technologies.
“The agriculture value chain must transform to become a more integrated and accommodating system that should have a diverse array of transferable skills, knowledge and expertise that youths must possess.
“This can only be done when more incentives are established to suit the youths of today,” he explained.
For youths to thrive in the agriculture sector there is need for concerted efforts by engaging financial institutions, especially that lack of access to finance is also a challenge, as it is limiting youths to venture into the farming business.
To this effect, an International non-governmental organisation Hivos Southern Africa has identified private sector players such as banks to play a significant role in ensuring affordable access to finance for youth agri-preneurs (agriculture entrepreneurs) by re-aligning incentives that may reduce lending risks.
Hivos sustainable diets for all manager William Chilufya also believes that change of mind set and provision of right incentives to young people such as improved access to seeds and machinery is critical in developing a prosperous agriculture sector.
He suggests that Government should seriously involve youths in agriculture by putting them at the centre of plans to implement the nation’s agricultural policy.
“There is need to show political support by aligning agriculture to national budgets, to create an enabling environment for youths to contribute to diverse food production and consumption.
“For youths to effectively participate in agriculture, increase their production and better their livelihoods, they need a variety of investments and not just money. They need improved seeds, machinery, technology, knowledge and training,” Mr Chilufya notes.
He said reliable market access is also critical in encouraging youths to venture into agriculture.
However, the challenges being faced by youths to venture into agriculture, Zambia has a few young farmers who have attested to the many benefits the sector presents and that it takes determination and commitment to make it.
One such farmer is Maria Zaloumis, who is Tuzini Farms chief executive officer.
She explains the existence of challenges hindering youths to venture into the faming business.
The 33-year-old, whose professional background is that of a health specialist, but operates a commercial farming entity that involves growing tomatoes, onions and cabbages, believes that youths should consider venturing into the farming business as the sector presents immense opportunities across the value chain.
Ms Zaloumis, who is among the country’s youngest commercial farmers, feels that if young people are to do business and succeed they have to be strong and show determination.
“I can only urge youths out there to embrace agriculture to earn a living instead of waiting for white collar jobs. In agriculture there is a ready market for farm produce, and as farmers we need to take advantage by supplying to local markets to earn a living,” she explained.
Ms Zaloumis also urges youths to develop a saving culture, and invest on their businesses as access to finance is still a big challenge.
Currently, Tuzini Farms, which is located in Chisamba, has created 62 permanent jobs and generates a gross daily income of over US$500.
It is hoped that with increased support and creation of new opportunities from Government and the private sector, young people can be able to venture into farming and contribute to economic development and sustainable diets for Zambia’s growing population.
KELLY NJOMBO, Lusaka