By Chigumbu Warikandwa
It is the fashion of the developing world that there largely is rural to urban migration. The opposite is true in developed worlds. The great trek to the city is in search of opportunities and other comforts absent in the rural areas.
Peculiar to Zimbabwean rural areas is the absence of running treated water and electricity. These things are largely supplied in rural communities in the developed world, turning inside out the quest for land in the urban areas.
Electricity has become an integral catalyst of development because it is a clean, affordable and sustainable source of energy. However, the affordability of electricity comes in the long run. Setting up an electricity grid connecting a community does not come cheap if at all the country is generating sufficient electrical power. The government of Zimbabwe has responded to this through setting up a rural electrification levy which is funding the operations of the Rural Electrification Agency (REA) in order to capacitate rural communities to industrialise.
The major attraction in the city is employment which is offered by industry. Once the rural area has industrialised, it will be the tipping point for urban-rural migration.
The lack of industry has stifled economic development in the rural area. Lack of production technologies has left the rural populations to rely on nature only to offer a living. Rural communities in Africa and Zimbabwe in particular have been shipwrecked in poverty for long. The government of Zimbabwe entered into an affirmative action on land where land previously stolen and in the hands of foreign white settlers for a century which had been naturalised as legally theirs was taken and redistributed to disenfranchised natives beginning the year 2000. This to a certain extent has raised the standard of living of these new land possessors but this standard could have been much higher in the absence of crippling sanctions designed by the previous holders of the land, for obvious reasons.
Technology delivery is an essential catalyst for rural development. The government of Zimbabwe has gone a notch up in promoting the interest of rural communities through the establishment of the Ministry of Rural Development, Promotion and Preservation of National Culture and Heritage. This ministry is faced with a mammoth task as there is a lot of work needed to deliver the products of government in the rural areas.
Before discussing the task at hand, it will be beneficial to mention some of the attractions of the countryside. First, the countryside has cheaper land. The cost of land in metropolitan areas shoots up the cost of production and final cost of goods and services to the final consumer. Industrialising in the rural areas removes this production overhead.
Rural areas are largely sparsely populated with even the poorest land owners in a rural set up owning more land than the average land owner in any urban set up. Sparse populations guarantee less noise, less pollution and less crime. Other unwanted urban vices are unknowns in rural communities.
Rural communities are admired for their clean air and environs compared to the urban set up. For conservationists, the rural area is home to a natural ecosystem while the urban man-made ecosystem has several citizens of the ecosystem either removed or destroyed to pave way for foreign citizens of the same.
Though land is a finite resource which is under constant pressure from ever growing populations, the amount of land in rural areas has provisions for expanded future growth and presents an opportunity for pilot future urban development structures.
Rural areas are home to communities that have a commitment for permanent residency, hence such people’s inclination to community development will be ridden by the quest for personal development. It is the rural area which can be a dependable bastion for cultural preservation because of the homogenous nature of community cultures. It is difficult to suggest a homogenous culture for Dzivaresekwa residents but it is very easy to suggest such for a community in Mukonori, Hurungwe.
The most precious resource available to the rural populace is the land. The Zimbabwe Agenda for Sustainable Socio-Economic Transformation (ZIM ASSET) has singled out value addition as a useful component of wealth creation and poverty eradication. These two components form the basis of the need for affirmative action in rural communities. Rural communities largely are suppliers of cheap raw materials that rebound to them in their finished and expensive form, often making them fail to afford the product of their raw materials. A very near example is how rural communities fail to afford clothes that are made from the cotton they produce and sell off in its raw form. As a substitute, these impoverished rural communities turn to second hand clothes offloaded by first world countries; clothes that are always ill-fitting because of their very huge sizes made to accommodate obese societies.
Following the land reform programme, thanks be to the providence of tobacco growing knowledge which has widened the farmers’ wealth. Now farmers’ access to wealth is enhanced by the land, good climate and competitive prices of the golden leaf on the international market. However, there is need to maximise the wealth generating potential of the golden leaf through processing the leaf before exporting it to the final consumer. Zimbabwe must export cigarettes, not raw tobacco. Zimbabwe must export chemicals and other by-products of tobacco. These can be cheaply done in factories erected in rural areas where the land is. This brings dividends through the cutting of transport costs of rough raw materials, the cost of both agricultural and industrial land, land taxes and rent. Rural areas will also undoubtedly supply cheaper labour to work in such factories.
Rural communities missed the opportunity to supply such utilities as electricity and water at the turn of the millennium when farms were acquired for compulsory redistribution. Had the Ministry responsible for rural development been established then, it could have nucleated settlements around access points of these important utilities in order to distribute them cheaply to arriving new land occupiers. Similar settlement structures were designed in resettlement schemes established before 2000.
Rural communities are also at the mercy of their service and goods providers who supply them sub-standard products and services. Tobacco growing communities are in bad need for better housing and other community shared infrastructure. These can be funded by their combined financial muscle. Only needed is macro management of their buying power.
Now enter the Tokwe Mukosi dam, the pride of Zimbabwe. The mega dam, recently commissioned by President Robert Mugabe, has the potential to transform rural communities significantly. Communities which shall maximise their potential on the economic potential of this 1.8 billion cubic meter capacity dam will quickly mutate to town status. The dam will attract populations from far and wide and will spark various forms of commerce which will feed into the national economy after alleviating poverty on the dam’s catchment area.
The answer to rural poverty alleviation doesn’t lie in what the city can send to the countryside; instead what the countryside can make for the city should be the new development paradigm.