Mthabisi Tshuma, Features Correspondent

THE Ministry of Lands, Agriculture, Water, Climate and Rural Resettlement has said that the national land policy which is being formulated will prioritise allocation of the resource to the youths, who were left out in the fasttrack land reform programme since 2000.

For years, youths have been yearning to be given agricultural land as they have the zeal to contribute in the turnaround of the country’s agriculture sector.

In the past, Zimbabwe was the breadbasket of Africa but due to a variety of reasons among them frequent droughts, the status has over the years been lost.

In response to this, the Youth in Agriculture Apex Council Board (YAACB) was formed and early this year an inaugural Youths In Agriculture Indaba was held in Karoi with the aim of campaigning for allocation of more land to young farmers.

On the sidelines of the indaba, Deputy Minister of Lands, Agriculture, Water, Climate and Rural Resettlement Vangelis Haritatos stressed the importance of giving farming land to the youth.

Chronicle Features Correspondent Mthabisi Tshuma (MT) caught up with YAACB National Chairperson Mr John Muchenje (JM) to get a clearer picture of what they envisage and below are some excerpts from the interview:

MT: The land issue has been topical for a while but there has been no development in terms of giving land to the youths. What’s your take on that?

JM: The land issue has been one of the hottest topics in Zimbabwe. Youths have been promised land since the start of the land audit several years ago. The New Dispensation led by President Mnangagwa has put in place measures and made a substantive promise to allocate more land to the youths and women.

As young people, we have organised ourselves and formed the YAACB which I am chairing with our patron being President Mnangagwa. Gone are the days when youths were being promised things which would not materialise. We have been engaging the Government on this.

This land issue must be dealt with by June this year. The Government and Zimbabweans as a whole must brace for the second land reform programme, this time initiated by youths. We want to utilise all farms which we have been seeing lying idle. We expect that by July, offer letters should come from the Ministry while August and September should be for land preparation as we brace up for the farming season.

This time we mean business and we are very serious. President Mnangagwa has agreed to give us land as youths and no one has the right to say no. We need land to farm and feed the nation, not sleeping over it or kurima sora! (leaving land fallow).

MT: Youths are the future leaders and considering that Zimbabwe used to be the bread basket of Africa but has lost that status due to drought, unutilised land and other factors, how can youths make a difference?

JM: As youths, we are very passionate about agriculture. We are demanding State land which is under-utilised so that we can produce and make sure Zimbabwe becomes the bread basket of Africa again. We need land to produce. We are sick and tired of renting State land which is being underutilised by land barons.

MT: Taking note of the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic that has minimised Government operations, do you think your request will be honoured?

JM: The President has declared agriculture as an essential service which means all agriculture activities can be done. The report has been done, people with double and oversized farms are well known. There is nothing new here. It has to be done.

MT: The report has been done but what is stopping the allocation of the land in your view?

JM: President Mnangagwa has said the report is out and the land must be distributed without any delay. We have engaged the relevant authorities within the Ministry asking for action. It seems we are on the right path although more pressure has to be put to ensure we get what we want.

Land did not come on a silver platter. It was fought for by our forefathers and it is our duty as youths to defend the gains of the liberation struggle. For us youths, nothing is going to come on a silver platter. We understand the cake is small but we need to share it at whatever cost.

MT: In terms of figures, how many hectares do you think should be given to youths? Also, in terms of the provincial allocation and considering the farming types per region, how can the land be allocated?

JM: Considering that land is not growing anymore, the maximum hectarage per person should be 50 because there are many young people who have applied for land but never got it. We will need to share it properly and fairly.

MT: What system will be used in forwarding the names for the allocation?

JM: We have youths who are renting farms and have leases. These are our top priorities. The selection will not be based on any political or social affiliation. It has to be done fairly based on production capacity.

MT: When you are given land as youths, what are you promising?

JM: As youths in agriculture, we complement the efforts of the Government in food security, import substitution, employment creation and foreign currency generation. For now, our first priority is food security.

MT: What measures have you put in place to guarantee food security?

JM: Allocating land to the rightful people; not based on social or political affiliation is the first step. Effective and efficient use of land to those whom we have allocated land will definitely bring about food security.

MT: How will you make sure land is fully utilised?

JM: In conjunction with the Ministry, we will be initiating measures on which we are going to have a database for all commercial farms which are there and do physical checks on production.

We are pleased that our Permanent Secretary is hands-on and has a Doctorate in Agriculture hence production enforcement will be easy and guaranteed. The President and the entire Ministry want progress and progress is what we are calling for. – @mthabisi-mthire.