The Zimbabwe Farmers Union (ZFU) thinks school children and students should be in the frontline to raise awareness and trigger action against climate change, a major threat to food security in the region.
“Young people are the future of food security”, says Prince Kuipa, ZFU Chief Economist. Kuipa says that young people learn fast and are open to adopting new innovations. “Instead of using lead farmers to drive climate-smart agriculture (CSA), we think to use young farmers at school level,” he says.
“Young farmers act as agents of change and influence older farmers to shift from the conventional ways of agriculture to CSA techniques that improve adaptation to climate change.”
The ZFU, a membership organisation representing mostly smallholder farmers, has established a Young Farmers Club programme as a platform to engage young people in CSA – especially conservation agriculture – introducing it to 90 schools in Zimbabwe’s Mashonaland East Province.
With support from the ZFU, schools have established conservation agriculture demonstration plots. School children are trained on the principles of conservation farming and they apply their learning in the demonstration plots – and they bring the ideas home with them. An annual competition sees the winning school host a field day where students share experiences.
Conservation agriculture is an approach where crops are planted with minimum disturbance of the soil, often in planting basins, the soil is covered with crop wastes, cover crops or other organic matter, and crops such as cereals and legumes are grown in rotation. It enriches and sustains the soil as well as the people who farm it.
According to Kuipa, involving young farmers and schools was a unique element of the project. We are using a mantra ‘catch them young’ which means we have to train them in these techniques when they are still young and adaptable to new technologies” he said. “We also realised that the young farmers have an influence over their parents. Young farmers are important players in promoting conservation agriculture.”
Engaging youth on its own is not enough. Many CSA methods like conservation agriculture are labour-intensive which hindered their wide adoption by smallholder farmers.
Kuipa says the ZFU thus also promoted animal drawn equipment and use of herbicides for weed control to reduce the labour burden facing smallholders who implement conservation agriculture. Results have been positive with farmers who adopted climate-smart approaches in the ZFU project areas realising much higher crop yields than before, especially during drought seasons.
In 2018, Zimbabwe launched three policies to adapt and mitigate against climate change, including a Climate-Smart Agriculture policy to ensure that farmers adopt climate-hardy farming practices like conservation agriculture. A Child Friendly Climate Policy was developed to educate school children about climate-friendly practices.