Agriculture from the lens of a born-free

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Zimbabwe - Students and the school master tending to the garden at Nhema Primary School. Credit UNICEF

IN recent weeks, Professor Sheunesu Mpepereki in his articles in The Patriot has been elucidating the link between agriculture and all other disciplines, and how we all survive from the sweat of the farmer.
He argues that the liberation struggle was fought to regain the land that had been stolen by the British and all institutions in the country must work together to bring out and show how all sectors are inter-woven with agriculture, and help Zimbabwe reclaim its status as the bread-basket of Africa.
I went down memory lane from the time I was at Farai Primary School in Chitungwiza in 1990.
The late morning session was the most dreaded of the hot-sitting slots, it always felt as if you would be going to school ‘masikati’ hence we had given it that nickname, even though school started around 11am.
Although we had become well acquainted with the distance when going to school masikati, we somehow tended to underestimate the ‘speed’ of time and we were occasionally late for school.
At the gate, there were always two-or-three prefects jotting down latecomers and punishment was certain.
It’s either latecomers would pick up litter after break time or they would dig, weed or water the school garden.
So from an early age one got to associate agriculture as a form of punishment and this applies to most ‘born-frees’.
After enduring these ‘agricultural’ punishments at primary school, reprieve from this form of ‘punishment’ did not come.
At Mutambara High School in Chimanimani where I did my Form One and Two, agricultural activities were also a form of punishment.
The punishment, of course was always digging a hole for litter, preparing a compost heap, watering, weeding and preparing vegetable beds.
No need to stress the effect of this punishment on shaping our view of agriculture, which in Form One was introduced as a subject, and when it was time for practicals, students regarded Agriculture as a ‘free’ lesson.
I believe we were the last Form Two group to write exams for Zimbabwe Junior Certificate (ZJC) in 1998, and the results were thus used when grading us into classes for Form Three.
The crème de la crème were lumped into the ‘first’ class, 3A1, where they would be doing Sciences.
The ‘second’ class, 3A2 was an Arts class with practical subjects that included Fashion and Fabrics and Metal Work.
The ‘last’ and — in the eyes of the school-grading system — least was 3A3 which was again an Arts class, but the main difference was that their only practical subject was Agriculture.
The inference is obvious, Agriculture had the least importance, yet when food supplies dwindled at the dining halls students would strike (food riots).
Among the teachers, one could tell that the Maths teacher was regarded with the highest esteem, while the agriculture teacher was at the bottom of the ladder.
My maternal uncle tells me that during his time in the 1960s when he was doing Standard Three at Little St Augustine’s Penhalonga, his Agriculture teacher was regarded as the lowest ranking by his fellow teachers.
He recalls that most of the teachers then would stress putting on a tie, wearing a jacket (and most of the times with short-trousers) while painstakingly trying to imitate the ‘style and flair’ of the Englishmen regardless of the fact that they were tucked away in Chief Muchena’s dominion which had been ‘discovered’ by the white missionaries around 1896 when they set up the mission school.
My viewpoint of agriculture started to change in year 2000 while at Chinhoyi High School, then a Group ‘A’ Government school which closely interacted with Lomagundi College, one of the most coveted private schools.
The location of the school is quite intriguing.
It’s tucked away in the farming communities of Chinhoyi which in year 2000 were still dominated by whites.
The farmers were filthy rich, but one couldn’t tell that from the way they dressed.
Their children took a keen interest in Agriculture, not just the theory, but the practicals.
I remember one sports day when I befriended one of the white students during a 10 kilometre marathon.
Our conversation started drifting to his family background.
He told me that all their family riches came from the land and he hoped the wave of land reclamation would soon fizzle out before it affected him.
When Zimbabwe undertook the Land Reform Programme, land previously held by 4 000 white farmers was later parcelled out to more than 400 000 black households. The white farming community put up a spirited fight to reclaim the land, first by conniving with rogue High Court judges to pass judgments in their favour before approaching regional courts, but these efforts were in vain as the Land Reform Programme was indisputably the epitome of upholding democratic values – majority rule.
The lesson that stood out to me from the spirited fight put up by white farmers was that there is money in the land, and they had taught their children to value land.
Later on at University, I understood how most of the students who studied Agriculture did so as a last resort, perhaps after they failed to garner enough points to enrol for Medicine, Pharmacy or Veterinary Science (in that order).
So the question is; “If we grew up with the knowledge that agriculture is the backbone of our economy, what then could have made whole generations of black people shun Agriculture as a subject, particularly after independence?”
Could it be the white settlers or our school curriculum?
Professor Mpepereki says our curriculum must go beyond cosmetics and he argues that Zimbabwe must put its educational money where its mouth is.
“The critical element is correct ideological orientation of teachers who in turn guide students,” says Prof Mpepereki.
“All subjects have a link with agriculture, our key economic pillar and teachers, parents and pupils must appreciate this fact.”
It is high time we as ‘born-frees’ took agriculture seriously.
It is the bedrock of our economy and future.

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