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Farm Radio Weekly

Zimbabwe: Elderly farmers neglected by government and NGOs (IRIN)

Girazi Mukumbaa farms in Wedza, about 160 kilometres southwest of the capital, Harare. The 64-year-old is “old school” when it comes to agricultural practices. He uses cow dung to fertilize his maize, relies on local herbs to treat his cattle, and avoids chemical fertilizers.

In recent years, Mr. Mukumbaa’s crops have repeatedly failed during dry spells. He would like to raise chickens or pigs to help sustain his family, but his age is proving to be a hindrance; community-based organizations think he is too old to merit assistance.

Wonder Chabikwa is the president of the Zimbabwe Commercial Farmers Union, or ZCFU. He says that younger farmers receive better support from NGOs. Young people are perceived as more energetic and easier to communicate with. Older people are often ignored, even though many households are dependent on their care and guidance.

The United Nations defines elderly people as those who are aged 60 and above. According to the UN Population Fund, six per cent of Zimbabwe’s population, over three-quarters of a million people, are elderly.

David Phiri is the UN Food and Agriculture Organization’s sub-regional coordinator for southern Africa and Zimbabwe. He says: “Elderly persons make a great contribution to household food production in rural areas. They face the heavy burden of looking after [extended] families, as younger persons leave home to look for jobs elsewhere.”

Agricultural and food production experts say elderly people still make a significant contribution to household food security through farming. But older farmers are excluded from mainstream support programs such as those promoting techniques for adapting to climate change.

Mr. Chabikwa says older farmers, like younger ones, need training on soil management, adapting to climate change, marketing and diversification. He adds that households headed by elderly farmers are often more vulnerable to food shortages.

Many elderly people did not benefit from Zimbabwe’s fast-track land redistribution program, begun in the year 2000, when 4,500 white-owned farms were redistributed to about 300,000 small-scale farmers.

Innocent Makwiramiti is a Harare-based independent economist. He says: “This means that most [elderly farmers] remain farming on tired soils in largely dry areas that require much fertilizer and water, and [need] a great deal of farming support.”

Mr. Mukumbaa does not understand why he is routinely bypassed by officers from the Agriculture Ministry’s extension services and NGOs. He says: “Young men and women who have been told why there are so many droughts these days have no time to explain these things to old people like me. They say I am too old and therefore cannot understand a thing.”

Mr. Chabikwa says: “The irony about smallholder farming in Zimbabwe is that government and other stakeholders generally do not acknowledge the contributions that the elderly make to food production for families and the nation.”

To read the article on which this story was based, Zimbabwe’s neglected elderly farmers, go to: http://www.irinnews.org/report/100566/zimbabwe-s-neglected-elderly-farmers

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