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Novel strategies to eradicate rural poverty in Zimbabwe

Courage Masona
THE government of Zimbabwe’s fight to eradicate poverty is revealing a developing dichotomy. Extreme poverty continues to be stubborn in many parts of the country, especially in rural areas. Poverty is predominantly a rural phenomenon in Zimbabwe given that about 70% of Zimbabweans reside in rural areas.

Since 1980, the government of Zimbabwe in partnership with international organisations implemented a number of poverty alleviation programmes such as; cooperatives, growth points, CAMPFIRE and community share ownership trusts.

However, no meaningful development has been made so far. In April/May 2019, it was estimated that about 5,6 million Zimbabweans were extremely poor compared to 4,5 million in 2018.

The rise in extreme poverty during the period 2017-2019 was largely driven by the economic crisis and exacerbated by poor rains during the 2018/2019 season and cyclone Idai.

This has led to a deterioration of household incomes in both rural and urban areas. According to findings from the 2020 Rapid Poverty Income Consumption and Expenditure Survey (PICES) Telephonic Survey conducted by Zimbabwe National Statistics Agency (Zimstat), in partnership with the World Bank and (Unicef), almost half the population in Zimbabwe was in extreme poverty in 2020.

This was attributed to the combined effects of an increase in the price of basic necessities, economic contraction caused by the Covid-19 pandemic, and poor harvests. If this trend continues, it could threaten the goal of ending extreme poverty by 2030.

People living in poverty are among the most vulnerable to political manipulation, social inequity, and exclusion. They are often most susceptible to the negative impacts of climate change, resource scarcity, and environmental degradation.

These groups are more vulnerable to health inequalities and risks arising from poor sanitation and unclean water. Poverty was relatively high in 2019 with rural populations most affected.

Drivers of rural poverty
Given that agriculture is the backbone of the Zimbabwean economy, climate change-related impacts including droughts, floods, high temperatures, and rainfall have adverse effects on rural development activities.

All this reminds me of the adage — “When agriculture sneezes, the rest of the economy catches a cold”.

Rural vulnerability to climate change is high due to social, economic, and environmental conditions that intensify vulnerability to negative impacts and contribute to a reduction in the capacity to cope with climate hazards.

Vulnerability and poverty aggravation has also been exacerbated by the Covid-19 pandemic, which has resulted in the deaths of the economically active and the diversion of funds. These factors are interlinked and greatly contribute to the current staggering poverty statistics in the country and the retrogression of rural development.

Rural poverty in Zimbabwe has further been perpetuated by the urban bias of development strategies, which siphon off rural resources into the urban sector.

Development plans formulated and partly implemented in Zimbabwe did not pay attention to poverty alleviation in rural areas, the assumption being that the benefits of any national development strategy embarked on would trickle down to the poor in the periphery.

The trickle-down-effects of poverty alleviation, in reality, did not occur and the poor continue in a state of deprivation whilst the gap between the affluent urban and the rural poor will be widening as a result of such urban biases.

To understand the causes of poverty in Zimbabwe, the poor performance of the country’s manufacturing industry must also be explored.

Manufacturing surveys estimate that industrial capacity utilisation improved from 47% in 2020 to around 56% in 2021. However, there is still much more work to be done to improve industrial capacity utilisation.

Low capacity utilisation is mainly a result of an erratic power supply, lack of capital, higher input costs, antiquated machinery and deficiencies in infrastructure. This has a major impact on agricultural output, thus affecting farmers’ income.

In Zimbabwe, poverty levels are exacerbated by corruption. Graft is sometimes portrayed as a “cancer” in society. It is a parasite on any country’s economy.

I strongly believe that reducing corruption among African countries is an important factor which can considerably reduce poverty.

The origins of corruption in Zimbabwe can be attributed to numerous factors. A number of scholars concur that the roots of corruption are embedded in the nature and fabric of government politics.

From the top echelons of the government, there are innumerable streams of practices that have spread throughout the system and the pattern has created a chaotic situation leading to severe corruption. This has resulted in increased poverty among the grassroots.

Strategies to eradicate rural poverty
Poverty reduction has been a key policy priority for the government of Zimbabwe as evidenced by the development and adoption of an innumerable number of poverty alleviation programmes.

However, economic challenges and exposure to more complex, recurring, and intense shocks (including economic, social, climate change-induced, and the recent Covid-19 pandemic) hampered progress in this regard. There is an urgent need of rehabilitating rural infrastructure to promote the growth of the agricultural sector and the rural non-farm economy.

There is a need of capacitating the District Development Fund (DDF) and rural district councils with qualified and competent staff who are community development practitioners, well versed in participatory methodologies.

Corruption is now an entrenched culture in Zimbabwe that is retarding development. Political will is needed to fight corruption, and will enable the Zimbabwe Anti-Corruption Commission (Zacc) to fully carry out its mandate.

Only then, can the commission be able to stop the diversion of funds meant for rural development. In my opinion, previous rural poverty alleviation programmes in Zimbabwe such as the growth point strategy and the CAMPFIRE programmes failed because they lack sustainability as a result of the utilisation of a top-down approach.

Bottom-up approaches should be used to promote sustainability and the ownership of rural development programmes. This would go a long way in building strong institutions for the poor.

Further, micro-finance institutions should be increased in terms of their availability and accessibility in rural areas. The loan programmes should encourage the group lending methodology to ensure that the group members act as collateral support for each other.

This will ensure that more poor women and youth access micro-credit even if they do not own any productive assets. I believe that to eradicate poverty, there is a need to provide microfinance through high-quality community organisations, enhance capabilities of the poor whilst providing social safety nets to the poor and vulnerable, ensure good governance within community organisations and institutions supporting them.

Farmers who constitute about 70% of the rural populace are encouraged to diversify livelihood options and be provided with market linkages.

  • Masona is an economist and lecturer at the Zimbabwe Ezekiel Guti University. He can be contacted at cmasona@zegu.ac.zw.These weekly New Perspectives articles, published in the Zimbabwe Independent, are coordinated by Lovemore Kadenge, an independent consultant, past president of the Zimbabwe Economics Society and past president of the Chartered Governance & Accountancy Institute in Zimbabwe (CGI Zimbabwe). — kadenge,zes@gmail.com or mobile: +263 772 382 852.

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