REFOCUSING the rural development process to concentrate on improving the well-being of rural people and reducing rural poverty is a key developmental objective. It should be acknowledged that rural development entails much more than increasing the average income of rural people, but improving the quality of life in a balanced manner spatially to move the majority from material poverty.
The First Republic inherited a dual economy in which most poor black majority lived in marginal rural areas. Agriculture in Zimbabwe has been central in defining the form and function of rural development.
Zimbabwe had a specific rural and urban divide, while the rural also had a racial-class character, highly populated and suffered from under-investment in key development indicators such as health, education and infrastructure.
During the early years of the First Republic, the government invested in economic and social infrastructure as part of correcting the wrongs of almost 80 years of colonial rule that shaped the character divide found in rural areas up today.
Over the past few years, a multiplicity of policies have been crafted and adopted by the central government whose major aim has been to uplift the livelihoods of the majority living in rural areas.
The colonial strategy became largely known as the first agricultural revolution, which was racially skewed and a highly developed sector that was largely driven by agriculture buttressed by the manufacturing sector.
The correction of this colonial history was inevitable as Zimbabwe became food secure in the face of the racial divide, while investment by in education and primary healthcare placed Zimbabwe on a path towards an upper middle-income status for whites.
In 2004, Rukuni termed the progress, the Second Agricultural Revolution in which smallholder farmers became dominant producers of cotton and maize. There was also support by government in input-output markets, redirection of financing and extension to the small holder sector.
An Integrated Rural Development Plan as part of the Growth with Equity Policy was introduced to push for economic growth and development in the rural areas. Growth points were promoted as a means of attracting investment thereby assisting in developing the disadvantaged areas such as Gutu, Gokwe and Murehwa.
After independence more were established but unfortunately there was little investment in most of the growth points beyond grinding mills, vending, small grocery stores and bottle stores.
Historically developing rural areas has been top-down with a heavy-handed involvement of the central government in most aspects of rural lives.
But overtime, it has been seen imperative to promote a more bottom-up rural development model in which the people who live in the rural areas have a stronger role and decision making on their lives. Having rural people leading in their developmental aspirations is more sustainable as people themselves seek ways to improve their lives and shape a more sustainable future.
However, the government must remain in a facilitatory role to avoid over-independence by the rural population. For this to happen, the voices of the rural poor and those who represent them must be strengthened in national strategy formulation and implementation. Investments and development must address numerous off farm activities that would be able to trigger growth.
Development of rural areas must start by investing capacities for use of land and water resources in the agriculture sector. Yet, in the case of Zimbabwe agriculture remains an enigma for it is of interest to the state yet there is under investments in the smallholder sector.
With the noted increase in intensity of climate change, agriculture in its traditional form will not be able to contribute meaningfully to the prosperity of rural areas. Therefore, it is important to diversify the economy and promote non-agricultural interventions in rural areas to stimulate new income streams.
The government alone cannot achieve this as the country already suffers from a colonial model that has had a large government footprint in the lives of rural farmers. There is need for the private sector to play a key role in rural development as most manufacturing and services companies are dependent on agriculture supply chains.
The private sector can play a huge role by focusing on the upstream and downstream activities of agriculture value supply chains towards enhancing the completeness of the agriculture cycle in a typical model of from-the-farm-to-the-plate.
The challenges of ensuring growth also include poor targeted financing, poor planning by local authorities where some of the growth points have been allowed to mushroom but with little chances of ever developing.
Private sector investors have not been keen to invest as there is poor tenurial security from local councils making such investments risky.
In addition, there is poor infrastructure that would be conducive to private sector involvement. To improve on investments in rural areas the following must be promoted:
Promoting a development approach through value chain addition to farm produce to avoid rural producers selling unprocessed goods. Some rural producers have ventured into dried vegetables and spices. More processing, more local consumption of locally processed foods must be promoted. The private sector could be encouraged to invest through provision of incentives and more effective private-public-producer partnerships.
Identify and promote area specific economic drivers that encourage more product diversification such as aquaculture, apiculture and off-farm projects such as arts, crafts and eco-tourism.
Sustainable natural resource management and projects that promote eco-tourism and green economy approaches.
Provide initiatives for the development of regulatory frameworks for rural financial service provision, social mobilisation to develop and deliver non-conventional financial instruments such as rural banking and rural savings and loans.
Co-financing of technology and infrastructure that can help in solving market failures and reducing high transactions cost for rural communities.
In addition, there is need to create a network of producers of locally produced non-conventional commodities and facilitate their engagement in market processes.
Improve linkages between rural areas and the national economy.
There must be a clear relationship between growth centres and agricultural production.
Lastly, there must be more deliberate planning and channeling of investments as well as resources.
Chenjerai is an economist. She is interested in policy analysis and possesses an in-depth knowledge and understanding of macro-economics and development economics. She also has project planning and management experience. She writes in her personal capacity. — +263 775145046 or e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org