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How corporates can aid rural technologies

Peter Makwanya

IT has always been the norm that people move from rural areas to towns and cities around the world looking for employment opportunities. This movement has always been headward and non-reciprocal. Therefore, the gap between the rural and urban areas continues to widen.   People always view the cities as a solution to their problems, yet this has contributed to a complexity of stresses in those cities. The urban areas can no longer hold their normal carrying capacities, hence they have become hotbeds of population density, pollution of all kinds, disease, crime, prostitution and all vices. Our major undoing as developing countries is spending the course of our lives trying to be like the West, engaging in mega-projects like those in the West and failing dismally in the process.   Our hope and future as a country does not lie in the West or East, as our authorities might want us to believe. The panacea to our economic woes lies in investing in simple sustainable rural technologies whilst retaining core environmental and social values. We must try to do business in environmentally-friendly ways. It is therefore the adoption of environmentally-friendly business practices that would open up an additional range of opportunities for the corporate sector. The progress we should witness in villages is yet to be seen. This signifies a yawning planning gap by the government and the corporate sector.   Similarly, Zimbabwe has a growing population of hungry and capable researchers who sadly lack the support of the corporate sector to facilitate their research initiatives. These researchers need funding to focus on improving technologies for the rural poor. On the other hand, the government’s idea of growth-points appeared noble, but has regrettably been left to rot. One cannot compare the goals of the growth points with what is happening on the ground. A visit to growth points would show bottle stores, piles of firewood for sale, petty traders and evidence of moral decadence. Real builders of modern Zimbabwe would be those whose ideas address the needs for economic development and job creation in rural areas, and the business sector should play a leading role.   The business sector should also sponsor the holding of rural fairs where ecopreneurs can showcase products appropriate for rural needs. These may include solar heaters, smokeless clay stoves, water purifiers, and technologies for storing and processing agricultural products. These are some of the people-oriented approaches that the corporate sector should engage in, in conjunction with indigenous knowledge systems. As it stands, rural people continue to be a forgotten lot as many business departments never bother to identify and deliver rural technologies to these communities. A high percentage of rural Zimbabweans are poverty-stricken. They still use the bush for toilets and when they come back they will be carrying loads of firewood, thereby destroying the environment in the process. The majority still use paraffin and diesel lamps, which have numerous negative long term effects on health and the environment.   Science and technologies for rural areas need to be harnessed, given that urban technologies devoid of rural development are not sustainable. A rigorous needs analysis which brings out underlying under-development issues needs to be carried out extensively so that our development becomes rural-oriented. Rural people need to be asked, for instance to describe their visions for a better future 20 years from now. These realities should then be integrated into corporate planning and linked to technological advancement objectives. The business sector needs to record indigenous knowledge at grassroots levels and create platforms on which this can be shared. This would help to identify grassroots innovations and promote their wider use. The objective would be to present rural communities with a range of technologies from which to choose a sustainable source of income as well as bring producers and users of such technologies together. This would lead to a people-centered campaign in rural Zimbabwe.   Rural fairs and exhibitions need to be seriously supported as the rural people have lots of products but lack resources to process, transport and market them. It is something degrading, even from the corporate sector’s point of view, to see the Chinese coming into Zimbabwe to establish bakeries at rural service centres and growth points. The Chinese are raking in thousands of dollars from business ventures that rural Zimbabweans could do, if set-up capital was available. Banks should be called upon to assist these communities with loans that are sustainable. We need reasonable loans for rural farmers, not the fleecing that they are currently experiencing from cotton companies.   Rural development initiatives need to be competitive and rewarding since so many noble initiatives have suffered still-births, abandonment, or have just been talked about but without any concrete action. Our corporate sector should not lose track of the nation’s priorities by choosing to compete with the corporate sectors in developed markets. They should instead focus on rural-centred technologies and labour-intensive initiatives. The problem is that scientific and industrial establishment do not operate in rural areas hence they are not interested in rural problems. The Chinese have invaded our rural areas and they are smiling all the way to China.   It is critical that our corporate sector should not fail to grasp the idea of sustainable growth, as sustainable development has been deemed one of the biggest business opportunities in the history of commerce. Rural people need to be empowered with expertise in environmental protection and growth so that they would use those skills for sustainable living. Tree planting and landfill projects are still very relevant initiatives that the corporate sector can continue to support. Today, Zimbabwe’s landscape has lots of scars from shallow mining. The gullies and open spaces resulting from these mining activites need to be reclaimed by planting trees. These must not just be ordinary trees, but commercial ones which can be harvested and sold on maturity.Tree-planting can also be used to regulate stream-flows and prevent erosion.   Another environmentally-sustainable project the corporate sector can support is bee-keeping. Communities can revive this century-old venture and sell the honey to selected business concerns that would in turn process the honey into several products. It is quite disturbing indeed to see South African honey on the shelves of several Zimbabwean supermarkets, yet we could grow lots of honey in this country.   Lastly, it is important for the fly–by night architects of indigenisation to direct their immense energy to empower rural people, not themselves or the newspapers. For the corporate sector, the messages are clear, we need a paradigm shift by going simple and basic in order to tame the abundant rural markets in a sustainable way. If we don’t, then foreigners take what is ours right from under our noses. We should come down from our high horses, be real, locally relevant and truly indigenous.     Peter Makwanya is a climate change communicator who can be contacted on: kwanyas67@yahoo.com or petrovmoyt@gmail.com

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