Young Zimbabweans choosing farming over corporate jobs

Mako Manungo (left) farms with oranges, maize, chillies and chickens.

Mako Manungo (left) farms with oranges, maize, chillies and chickens.

By Walter Marwizi, bird story agency

Young, savvy university graduates are choosing farming over white-collar jobs as Zimbabwe seeks a return to its breadbasket status.

When Tavuya Manungo, 29, returned to his home town in Shamva in north-eastern Zimbabwe, he did so with a master’s degree in finance and investment, and no desire for corporate employment. He also brought with him his brother Mako, 27, who holds a degree in business management.

They had decided to go farming. “Well-managed agricultural projects, small or large, are more lucrative than most jobs available. It is also fulfilling work that is easy to love,” explained Manungo’s younger brother.

The brothers are among a new generation of educated youth, many with degrees in business, law, finance and technology, who are shedding suits and ties and turning to agriculture.

Masimbiland farm, named after a nearby mountain, produces 15 hectares of oranges, 90 hectares of maize and three-and-a-half hectares of chillies. The farm also maintains over 30,000 egg-laying hens.

The farm also produces mango and citrus seedlings in its nursery, with targeted production of a million citrus seedlings by the end of 2022.

Tavuya Manungo oversees the farm’s administration and finance, while Mako is in charge of the operations.

In 2015, the duo won a national Youngest Brahman Breeders award for their Brahman cattle. Starting small, they now also have well over 200 of the super beef breed.

The brothers hire over 40 pickers daily to help on the farm. “We’re nothing without the people working the land, they make it all possible,” said Mako.

Another young person who has traded an office coat and tie for farm overalls is 27-year-old Hilary Chikambi. He returned “to the soil” after leaving his corporate job as an accountant.

“For me it was an act of faith because I had almost no knowledge in farming. I had watched my parents rear chickens in my childhood, and that is how I managed to convince a friend to invest in this project with me. I am happy that chicken-rearing has become a popular business venture in Zimbabwe as the inputs are relatively low, profit margins tend to be large and the turnaround time is short,” he said.

But at his first attempt, heavy rainfall destroyed his chicken structures, killing almost all the birds, and after butchering them, a fridge malfunctioned, leading him to donate all the meat before it spoiled.

Now, four years on and many lessons later, Chikambi and his staff sell almost 2,000 birds a month to supermarkets, restaurants and individuals.

Having lost birds to poor disease control and what Chikambi describes as ‘minor mistakes’, he has invested in staff training where the labourers he hires are taught good farming practices. He plans to expand into horticulture and maize production, which will help him reduce costs for chicken feeds.

“I want young people to know that you can make a good career out of farming, and honestly, there isn’t a profession where the hand of God is more evident. You plant something in the ground, have faith and work hard at it, and in due time, something you can reap grows,” Chikambi added.

In 2021, the country recorded its third-highest maize crop ever, according to United States Department of Agriculture statistics, and although the largely rain-fed crop headed lower in 2022, the country’s agricultural diversity has grown by leaps and bounds. The country made its first exports of industrial hemp to Switzerland in 2022 and is building a credible cannabis farming industry on the back of its tobacco industry. The country remains the world’s fifth-largest tobacco producer and also exports cotton, macadamia nuts, citrus, sugar, legumes and cut flowers.

/bird story agency