Categories: ArticlesPublished On: 20th September 2023

Zimbabwe: Agricultural college students struggle to get work

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Graduation at Kushinga Phikelela, one of the country's premier agricultural training colleges in Marondera, just outside the capital Harare. Where will all these students find jobs? (Source: Kushinga Phikelela website).

Zimbabwe’s drive to professionalise farming by establishing agricultural colleges could be slowed by the inability of students to find work in the industry. The country has been in a deliberate drive to mainstream agriculture as an economic powerhouse, and this has resulted in the increased intake into agricultural training colleges and vocational training centres.

However, this has come with a downside as too many students compete for too few commercially run farms to gain insights into the sector before they graduate. As is to be expected, after graduation they seek to be absorbed into the agro industry, once the country’s highest foreign currency earner. One such student is Mavis Thebe, a 30+ year-old student at one of the country’s premier agricultural colleges. She says she has been sitting at home for months despite this being her industry attachment year out.

“There are no farms that have places for agriculture students. I am concerned time is running out.” Mavis Thebe

Agricultural colleges in Zimbabwe train the country’s agricultural extension officers and some end up as farm managers, says Mavis. However, for her, the lack of industry experience could compromise her chances of getting gainful employment once she finishes her three-year training. “I cannot go back to college without having gone through internship which means I will extend my time in college when I should be employed,” she lamented. Mavis is not the only one caught in that dilemma.

“There are many of us sitting at home,” she said. Agricultural colleges are not the only sector facing this challenge as the country continues to churn out thousands of tertiary education graduates who compete for a few jobs. The agricultural sector was once one of the largest employers in the country but has not been spared the economic turmoil after farm disruptions more than two decades ago saw production dwindle. It means hard times for tertiary education students, but also eventually for farms which could be left operating without skilled personnel. According to local researchers, there are eleven universities, thirteen colleges and eleven vocational centres that offer agricultural training, revealing the output of specialised graduates in an already saturated employment sector.

The stated purpose of state-owned agricultural training centres is the production of high quality, self-reliant graduates, and government has touted skills and innovation as the new drivers of economic growth, aiming to create a multi-billion-dollar agricultural sector. Agriculture Permanent Secretary, John Bhasera, is on record saying that “agricultural extension officers (AEOs), together with all farmers in Zimbabwe, are the frontline agents for agricultural transformation and rural development.”

The Permanent Secretary has also emphasized appropriate training, but with graduates struggling to acquire much needed practical expertise, concerns remain that those efforts could mean little movement towards realising fully-fledged food self-sufficiency for the country.

 

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