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Returning Migrants Start Over in Sierra Leone

FREETOWN According to a recent U.N. report, migration is on the rise. There are now an estimated 258 million people living in a country other than their country of birth. This has increased by almost half since the year 2000, the report says. Earlier ...
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Agriculture a hard sell for Zimbabwe’s youth

Laiza Mukute's 14-hectare plot is a pale shadow of what it was 10 years ago.

The Mukute family � 43-year-old Laiza, her husband, and three sons � obtained the plot in 2001 under a land reform programme that saw thousands of commercial white farmers evicted and their land allocated to black Zimbabweans.

Laiza's husband was killed by lightning in 2007. Her sons have all moved to the capital to eke out a living as street vendors, leaving their mother only with their younger, teen-age sister. Like many young Zimbabweans, they see no future for themselves in the troubled sector.

Agriculture in Zimbabwe has long suffered from meagre state investment, poor training, and limited access to farming equipment and credit � not to mention the effects of climate change in a region that has repeatedly been struck by devastating droughts and floods.

About 60 percent of Zimbabwe's population of 16 million is under the age of 24.

My sons won't hear anything about farming. They would rather be in the city even though life is also tough for them there, Mukute told IRIN at her farm in rural Mazowe, some 60 kilometres northeast of Harare.

This youth disillusionment is a phenomenon that extends well beyond the borders of Zimbabwe, according to Peter Wobst, who works on rural poverty reduction at the UN's Food and Agriculture Organization.

Africa's rural youth face particular barriers to accessing productive employment: young women and men tend to encounter challenges in accessing adequate knowledge, information, and education, Wobst told IRIN. They have insufficient access to land, inputs, financial services, markets, and, ultimately, limited involvement in policy dialogue.

This is despite the fact that the almost 200 million people in Africa aged between 15 and 24, as the FAO puts it, represent a large potential reservoir for the growth of the agriculture sector.

Different aspirations

Mukute is barely making ends meet. She can't afford to replace her dilapidated ox-drawn cart and has sold off most of her livestock.

Only her 15-year-old daughter, Elizabeth, helps her in the fields, Who knows, she may also join her brothers one day and leave me too struggle on my own, she said.

These are well-founded fears.

I can't remain stuck here farming because it comes with hard labour, Elizabeth told IRIN. If I pass my O-level [exams] next year, my mother and my brothers will have to find money for me to go for A-levels and, after that, university. I want to be a lawyer and I will employ someone to come and help my mother with work on the plot.

Whereas the larger Mukute family used to grow maize, groundnuts, and tobacco on the full 10 hectares, now only two hectares are under cultivation.

Food security at stake

Many families in Mazowe and rural areas across Zimbabwe have seen a similar exodus of younger members to cities, gold and diamond mining areas, and other countries.

Wonder Chabikwa, head of the Zimbabwe Commercial Farmers' Union, said the future of farming and food security in the country will depend on the commitment of young people to working the resettled land.

Most of the youths seem not to have a conviction for farming, and the majority of those that will remain to till the land will do so because they have limited options, he told IRIN.

This sentiment is echoed on the website of the Zimbabwe Farmers' Union, a separate association, which recognisesthat the future of agriculture lies in the hands of the youths, and therefore there is [an] urgent need to unleash their potential and energy in that direction.

To this end, for the past five years, ZFU has organised a Youth Agripreneurship Summit, which brings hundreds of young farmers together to acquire leadership skills, network with key players in the sector, and learn about new technology.

One school of thought is that there might be more interest from young people if they could be encouraged to drive through commercialisation in the sector that would help address the low productivity issues.

But Chabikwa warned of the dangers of placing too much emphasis on the types of farming that generate the greatest profits, such as tobacco, even if that crop has dramatically improved the living standards of many resettled farmers.

Inevitably, youths would always be enticed by farming that brings money through cash, but this is at the expense of food crops like maize. If the youths would rush into tobacco farming and horticulture, food security suffers, he told IRIN.

Challenges

A survey of the aspirations of school children in two of Zimbabwe's provinces conducted in March 2017 found that while some respondents mentioned agriculture, they didn't emphasise just any old farming, but they had a clear focus on intensive irrigated agriculture, notably horticulture, but also tobacco � both seen as a route to accumulation (of wealth) and future prosperity.

Cited obstacles to realising these aspirations included lack of farming skills and access to land.

In Mukute's neighbourhood, the latter is a common concern.

Johnson Hozheri, 34, farms on 1.5 hectares given to him by his father when he married and couldn't find another farm to settle on.

My father gave the four of us (three brothers and a sister) plots on this farm on which we were resettled as a family 18 years ago. The plots are too small for meaningful farming, but do we have a choice? We are already congested, Hozheri told IRIN.

To supplement their income, the brothers pan for gold along the Mazowe River during the dry season. They also cross the border to South Africa, Botswana, and Zambia to buy various goods for resale among the rural farmers or in nearby towns.

We always come back home because life is tough in the towns or in other countries, Hozheri said. Young people from smaller families have been luckier because there is more to share, but disputes over who is entitled to the land in the event of the death of the parents are common in this community. There are several cases where the farms ended up derelict because of the disputes.

To redress such problems, independent member of parliament Temba Mliswa, also a farmer, is urging the government to speed up a promised audit to identify unused resettled land and make it available for young farmers squeezed into plots allocated to their parents.

He said the government must also prioritise the training of young people in agriculture.

A recent report by the parliamentary committee on lands and agriculture identified major shortcomings among the country's tertiary educational institutions, exacerbated by shoestring budgets and obsolete or inadequate training materials and equipment.

Source: IRIN

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Bumper Zimbabwe harvest prompts bigger bet on “command agriculture”

Zimbabwe is expected to harvest 2.1 million metric tonnes of maize this year after good rains followed successive El NiAo-induced droughts. For the first time in many seasons the country will be able to feed itself and not require commercial imports or food aid. But is this the result of good fortune or good policy?

The Zimbabwean government is convinced it has found the secret to food security after the biggest maize harvest since a controversial land reform programme was launched nearly two decades ago. It's ignoring the critics who say success was mostly due to the better weather and who worry about the scheme's gaps and longer-term returns.

New President Emmerson Mnangagwa is doubling down on command agriculture, a major private sector-backed subsidy programme in which farmers are provided with seeds, fertiliser, fuel, and chemicals � on loan, with repayment made with a portion of the harvest the following season.

Some 50,000 small-scale and commercial farmers working 160,000 hectares of maize in high potential areas benefited from the programme and are expected to sell a hefty five tonnes per hectare back to the state-run Grain Marketing Board as part repayment on their loans.

Happy farmers

Simpson Mukari from rural Goromonzi, 50 kilometres southeast of the capital, Harare, said he harvested an average of seven tonnes per hectare after being provided with fuel and tillage services.

I cultivated 20 hectares under command agriculture and what I harvested exceeded my expectations, he told IRIN. I have repaid the loan in full, set aside enough maize to last a year for my [six-member] family, and might not need another loan since I made a good profit.

After repaying the loan, he was left with a net harvest of 40 tonnes of maize worth more than $15,000.

Command agriculture is being repeated with even more ambitious targets this year � and extended to include wheat, soya, and livestock.

Maize production will cover 220,000 hectares � 60,000 hectares irrigated and the rest rain-fed � at an anticipated cost of $213 million. A fuel supply company, Sakunda Holdings, among other private firms, is financing the programme on behalf of the government, although details are vague.

Command agriculture was designed to solve a fundamental problem facing our country in the aftermath of the land reform, that of mobilising sustainable and affordable funding for our agriculture, Finance Minister Patrick Chinamasa wrote earlier this year. The 2016-17 harvest sets the stage for achieving this goal.

A difficult road to food security

Zimbabwe has tried a number of schemes to kick-start agriculture since the disruption of land reform in 2000, in which white-owned commercial farms were seized without compensation and redistributed to landless Zimbabweans.

The economy was hit by a lack of foreign investment as a result, with successive droughts also undermining production. In response, in 2005/6 the army ran Operation Taguta/Sisuthi, which forced farmers to surrender their maize surplus, but this was deemed a failure.

In 2007, the Reserve Bank introduced a Farm Mechanisation Scheme, but the equipment seemed to go mainly to the well-connected, was widely viewed as corrupt, and again failed.

Mnangagwa, as vice president last year, championed the command agriculture contract farming system. In his inauguration speech as head of state last month, he prioritised food security as a government goal.

Underlining the determination, he appointed Perence Shiri minister of agriculture. A former air force commander, Shiri, like Mnangagwa, won notoriety for his role in a government crackdown on dissidents in the 1980s that killed more than 20,000 civilians in Matabeleland.

At the core of Mnangagwa's command approach is the centralised planning and development model borrowed from the Chinese � an old ideological partner of the ruling ZANU-PF party. The army and their logistical support plays a key role in the scheme alongside regular ministry of agriculture extension officers.

The cost of success

But the government is ignoring the economics behind the programme, critics say. It announced last year it would pay farmers $390 a tonne for maize this harvest � well above the world price, and reportedly roughly a third more than millers had offered the government.

According to Reuters, that price difference is worth $118 million, adding to a deficit for this year forecast at $400 million and an already heavy debt burden.

Institute of Development Studies research fellow Ian Scoones argues that agricultural subsidies are nothing new � domestically it was what was used to develop white commercial farming by the colonial government in the 1930s and 1940s.

He suggested that the current government could be looking to provide a shot in the arm to the struggling class of black commercial farmers who, although well-connected to ZANU-PF, have not performed as successfully as small-scale farmers as a result of land reform.

The big question is of course, 'how sustainable is this approach for the longer term � economically and politically?' Scoones noted. A bad rainfall year, or even a middling one, may unravel things quickly, loading more onto an already crippling national debt.

John Robertson, a Harare-based economic consultant, believes command agriculture is a big fallacy � especially as climate change threatens the viability of rain-fed maize production.

This is particularly important to note because most of the irrigation infrastructure across the country is in very bad shape, he told IRIN.

Out of the 50,000 farmers who benefited under the maize scheme, more than 10,000 have reportedly not delivered to the GMB as required � largely because of the marketing board's reputation for long delays in payment.

The difficult calculation made by farmers at harvest time is whether to sell to the GMB or to informal dealers who can pay on the spot but offer much less � an option that also avoids the additional cost of transporting your maize to the GMB's silos.

The gaps

According to one news report, as of 31 July the GMB had received just 230,000 tonnes of grain � out of the 2.1 million tonnes forecast to have been harvested. That poor result led to the deployment of the army to persuade farmers to release their harvest.

Without clear figures it is difficult to gauge the success of command agriculture. A report last month by the parliamentary lands and agriculture committee that had toured the country generally hailed the programme, but also pointed to significant gaps in implementation.

It found some of the free inputs were inevitably sold on the black market � the bane of other government subsidy programmes. Many farmers did not receive the full package on time and, in some cases, had to travel long distances to reach a GMB centre, where they were frustrated by the bureaucracy.

The committee also acknowledged that some farmers opted out of the scheme because of fear of the word 'command'. The perception was that this is a military programme and if one does not live up to the expectations, the consequences will be meted out in military style.

On the back of the good harvest, Zimbabwe is expecting economic growth of 2.5 to 3 percent in 2017, according to the International Monetary Fund. The IMF also points out that the success of the contract farming system is about sustainability.

The government is aware of the budgetary implications but views targeted support as warranted to achieve food self-sufficiency, the IMF said in a statement.

It notes that the government is taking a bet that private sector participation in command agriculture will grow, allowing its role in turn to diminish. For critics, this is wishful thinking.

Source: IRIN

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Ugandan MPs Clear Way for Museveni to Seek Re-election

KAMPALA Ugandan legislators voted late Wednesday to amend the country's constitution to allow 73-year-old leader Yoweri Museveni to extend his rule, potentially guaranteeing him a life-time presidency.

A provision in the current constitution limits the age of a presidential candidate at 75 years, which would have made Museveni ineligible to stand at the next polls in 2021.

At the end of Wednesday's daylong House debate, which capped a protracted and violence-marred process to remove that age limit, MPs voted 315-62 in favor of the amendment.

"The bill passes," said speaker Rebecca Kadaga after announcing tally results, prompting raucous celebrations from the mostly ruling party MPs who favored the bill.

Earlier in the day, two lawmakers were dragged away and detained when they tried to enter parliament, as the divisive debate proceeded in the chamber.

Police had blocked some legislators from entering the building, and live television footage showed two of them being driven away in security vehicles. Both opposed the bill.

The legislators blocked by police were attempting to enter parliament to serve court documents on Kadaga, who was presiding over the debate.

The document called on her to appear in court at 2 p.m. in respect of "the irregular suspension of our members of parliament," independent lawmaker Wilfred Niwagaba told a local television station minutes before he was detained.

Six MPs � all opposed to removal of the age cap � were suspended from parliamentary proceedings on Monday for alleged disorderly conduct and refusing to heed the speaker's instructions.

The bill to amend the constitution was introduced in parliament October 4 by a Museveni loyalist, after two consecutive days of brawling in the debating chamber between those opposed and those in favor, supported by security personnel.

On the second day, security personnel � who some MPs said were soldiers from an elite military unit � entered the chamber and violently ejected at least 25 MPs that the speaker had suspended from proceedings for alleged misconduct.

Second extension for Museveni

Wednesday's vote was the second time Ugandan parliament has changed the constitution to allow Museveni to extend his rule. In 2005, they voted to remove a limit of two five-year terms, which blocked him from standing again.

The bill also extended the length of a term for MPs to seven years from the current five. The limit of two terms was also re-imposed for the president, although that only means Museveni would be limited to two more terms, starting with the 2021 election.

"Are you not seeing what happened in Zimbabwe? Do we want his excellency to end like Gaddafi of Libya?" opposition legislator, Gilbert Olanya, who opposed the amendment, said in Wednesday's debate as he attempted to persuade colleagues to reject it.

Several African leaders have amended laws designed to limit their tenure. Such moves have fueled violence in countries including Burundi, Democratic Republic of Congo and South Sudan.

Initially hailed for restoring political order and fostering economic growth, Museveni has lately come under mounting pressure fueled by runaway corruption, and accusations he uses security forces to maintain his grip on power.

Both military and police personnel were heavily deployed around parliament this week, which opposition MPs say was meant to intimidate members.

Source: Voice of America

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