Youth Mentorship in Africa’s Agriculture: A Missing Ingredient in its Sustainable Agricultural Development Recipe

SAM_0747Attaching illustrations to theory on mentorship and the greater or holistic agricultural sector approach, Zimbabwe is one of many African countries that offers the clearest of reflections as to why sustainable agricultural development needs mentors. One would safely argue that the transition of ownership of Zimbabwean land (through the Fast Track Land Reform Program of 2000) from white farmers to the country’s indigenous owners could have been done better. Done better so much so that today the nation would be a greater continental giant still in agriculture. All that was needed was a smooth and peaceful transition governed by a clearer strategy. Such would have allowed for a diverse forms of mentorship with the objective primarily of transferring the agricultural wealth both current and prospective back to the indigenous people.

If the wealth transfer intended in Zimbabwe’s land reform program was as smooth and peaceful as to allow among many endeavours mentorship, the transitional knowledge and skills which were very necessary at the time as they are still necessary now would have kept the country’s agricultural sector stable and would have prevented it from collapsing. The closure of agricultural institutions is one example of such and the poor capacity utilization marred with non-performing institutions being another.

One more reflection of concrete magnitude exists and needs neither further explanation nor debate. This is the reflection illuminated in the current, cyclic and recurring food insecurity status of the country and even so in the preparedness or the lack of it thereof as well as mitigation against climate change’s threats to food security.  Zambia, which was destination to many white farmers from Zimbabwe’s post-independence correction of socio-economic inequalities boasts a productivity from which Zimbabwe imports the staple crop maize as a means to meeting its food security needs. Suffice to say, a significant input into  the development of the Zambian agricultural system  currently supporting Zimbabwe is from white farmers who once helped Zimbabwe bear the title, ‘breadbasket of Africa’.

This is not the first time and neither will it be the last that mentorship is recommended as an integral, significant part of sustainable agricultural development and food security in Africa. South Africa, during the birth of its democracy also developed transformational policies and synonymous with Zimbabwe, a land reform programme. While socio-economic inclusion and justice are the backdrop upon which land reform in Zimbabwe was built, its implementation in South Africa was on the main backdrop of contributing towards food security as stated by the Ministry of Agriculture and Land Affairs in 2000 although.

Today  it is evident in both nations that the underlying objectives of the land reform programmes were not realized nationwide as a result of challenges within the land reform itself and in the administrative accord under which they were run, some of which can be solved through strategies that are deemed simple or in both these cases over-looked; yet effective. Like Zimbabwean farmers, land recipient emerging farmers of South Africa lacked the knowhow in strategic planning and management expertise required in sustainable farming.

To these problem, even scholars have also recommended mentorship in South Africa, repositioning therefore the significance of mentorship in agriculture as a fact, not hearsay; in both the wake of land reform and the age of sustainable development. That mentorship is even more necessary now especially for youths as it was in the ages of infantile democracy and economic development is amplified in these two examples, considering that trickle-down knowledge to youth especially in primary agricultural sectors is the same with which the previous, older generation of indigenous farmers could only subsist, and barely enterprising whilst in possession of the greatest amongst Africa’s riches.

A holistic, all-inclusive mentorship approach is as possible as it is necessary in the sustainable development of any agricultural sector of any agriculture based economy, Africa’s even more so. For any African nation, from the primary production sector to the agricultural trade, commerce, cooperate and industrial spheres, mentorship serves to trickle down knowledge, skills, prowess and expertise for the perpetuation of such. At the same time, it serves to increase efficiency and productivity of current operations in the different sects or spheres that make the whole or entire agricultural economy. Even more so when done efficiently, the evidence of effective mentorship will be reflected in the sustainable budding off or weaning of  young  enterprising farmers in primary production, young industrialists and commercialists, agricultural trade unionists; a group that makes an important part while serving as a primary among indices of agricultural growth on the continent.

Young and women farmers in the fields need mentors, the kind that seasoned, successful and enterprising farmers need. That poverty in the agricultural enclave is perpetual is enough a reason mentors are necessary to replicate the success within the farming system. The many and diversified professionals along the agricultural value and development chains also need mentors, from both the indigenous planes (Africa) and beyond. Clearly that makes mentorship an important component of any strategy for sustainable agricultural growth and development. In the agricultural industry, trade and commerce sects; mentorship has taken the more formal form. It is in this case focal on a specified goal and attainment of specific or designated skills or knowledge not obtained in formal academia; apprenticeship, internship or traineeship as it is usually called. As much as mentorship is necessary in the whole of any agricultural economy, its necessity is even greater for youth and women; who are marginalized whilst at the same time sustainable agricultural development is not entirely achievable and possible without them.

Even though the odds of sustainable agricultural development are high and higher still with mentorship recognized at all sects within the agricultural economy, it is unfortunate as it is simultaneously alarming that not even a single African country has a clear youth in agriculture mentorship strategy, policy or as part of the national agricultural policy (even for countries with independent agricultural development policies). Exemptions count for few countries like South Africa where the government partnering with Agricultural Commodity Organizations expedited the implementation of the Master Mentorship Programme targeting on average 7000 beneficiaries annually. South Africa is among the top five African countries attaching a great deal of significance to mentorship in agriculture.

Even with this plausible example of South Africa, the highly acclaimed and esteemed global talk regarding youth does not seem to have a significant value attached to their mentorship needs, even more so in agriculture. For South Africa however, such can be understood considering its notable industrial growth and its driving away from an agriculture centred economy. Such means for the majority of youth, it is possible and sustainable to exit the agricultural economy and make decent sustainable living way above the poverty line. The same cannot be said for the rest other countries like Zimbabwe, Zambia, and Malawi among others that are yet to make significant development within the agricultural sector before they can sustainably transit towards a more industrial-basing of their economies, hence a majority of its youth are still stuck voluntarily and involuntarily in the agricultural economies of their countries.

With few exemptions like South Africa therefore, the agricultural policymakers and development strategists across the agriculture based economies of sub-Sahara Africa are yet to appreciate the true value of sustainable development as it is presented and elevated by mentorship especially tailored for youths and women. Mentorship is a necessary staple, not as a substitute but rather an equal or even superior to the agricultural extension and advisory services that are ubiquitous across the African dispensation.






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