Invest in rural markets

02 Oct, 2022 - 00:10 0 Views
Invest in rural markets

The Sunday Mail

Munyaradzi Hwengwere

Desolate and lifeless rural economies are a challenge for many African countries.

It is no wonder we either resign ourselves to such a situation or do the little we can to at least ensure our rural dwellers have something to eat.

Yet, as years go by, not only do rural areas remain poor but young people troop out to towns and cities in search of a better standard of living.

The drive by the Zimbabwean Government to transform rural livelihoods is most commendable.

The success of the programme, to a large extent, depends on a radical mental transformation by State institutions in the way they perceive and respond to challenges of rural development.

History has shown us that simply putting a new dam, borehole or even nutrition gardens is not enough.

Since independence, Government has invested significantly in building new dams and supporting rural communities with agricultural inputs.

The results so far suggest only a few communities have transitioned from poverty into successful farmers and entrepreneurs.

We need to shift the way development in rural areas is structured.

The starting point is to recognise that the rural population is clear about what needs to be done.

In most cases, they need better access to markets and support in various desired areas.

The Agricultural Marketing Authority (AMA) seems to have discovered the key to unlocking value in rural communities that largely depend on cattle rearing, but have failed to secure markets for their livestock.

For the first time in many years, AMA conducted Zimbabwe’s first open cattle market in Mpalawani area, bordering Midlands and Matabeleland South provinces.

The area, which is administratively under Insiza district, faces many developmental obstacles despite being surrounded by leading companies such as Unki, Mimosa, Murowa Diamonds, Zimasco and Palawani Lakeworld Resort.

The administrative centre is situated some 150 kilometres away, which poses many challenges.

To make matters worse, part of the community pays allegiance to Midlands while the other aligns itself with Matabeleland South.

The chiefs in Mpalawani are also divided on the basis of the two provinces.  At some point, a Presidential commission was appointed to deal with the problem and recommendations are still to be released.

It is no wonder that communities in Mpalawani have for a long period been getting the wrong end of the stick from middlemen, who took advantage of their long distance from main cattle markets to offer sub-economic prices for their livestock.

Just as well, the community finally came together and realised that as long as the exploitative situation persisted, so, too, would their collective impoverishment.

They approached AMA and sought to ensure that open cattle markets, which were no longer being held, were once revived.

AMA, which has also been transforming itself into a relevant national body, was alert to the opportunity and realised that it had the capacity to mobilise buyers and stakeholders to ensure that the anomaly was fixed.

Zimbabwe has an estimated 5,5 million cattle, most of which are in rural areas.  If you add other forms of livestock such as goats and chickens, it is evident that the rural population largely depends on livestock.

With better prices and competitive markets, lives in rural areas can be transformed in an instant.

Instead of very few fly-by-night buyers, who had now turned the cattle-rich Mpalawani into a place where they harvested quick riches through buying cattle for as low as US60 cents per kg, the first auction attracted eight buyers.

A total of 137 cattle were brought on the day, with over 80 being sold at no less than a dollar per kg.

The result was that villagers who used to earn less than US$200 per beast, this time added an extra US$150.

It was a good start and a lesson on how simply facilitating solutions to rural communities can have long- lasting transformative power.

However, it was also evident that building rural markets would not be an event but a process requiring serious investment by a cross-section of stakeholders.

A number of cattle farmers who participated in the first auction were neither conscious of the grade of their livestock nor aware of prevailing market prices.

A number also sought to make huge amounts of money without having invested in ensuring that their livestock were in the best shape.

The rural district council, which benefits from levies from the open cattle markets, could have prepared itself better.

The measuring scale brought on the day was archaic and collapsed before use.

In the end, auctioneers resorted to traditional methods of using a belt to approximate the weight of cattle that were being auctioned.

Besides creating doubt in the farmer, this method dampened the spirits of all who were at the inaugural market.

It was clear that for proper markets to function, there was need to educate the farmers on many areas required to ensure their cattle are kept in the best condition and sold at the right time and for the right price.

Mining companies such as Mimosa and Unki are investing in increasing livestock population in the areas, but they require support to ensure that these programmers have a commercial outlook.

The miners also require support by stakeholders in educating farmers to take care of donated beasts.

By working together, we not only minimise loss of capital, but are able to direct efforts to ensuring that the rural farmer transitions from poverty to prosperity.  In time, it is possible that mining companies will start buying their food requirements from these same farmers.

If this happens, the once derided rural area becomes a place where young people can dream of making permanent homes.

Munyaradzi Hwengwere is chairman of Buy Zimbabwe, a company that advocates market access and preference for local goods and services.


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