Chigumbu Warikandwa Correspondent
It is the fashion of the developing world that there is large rural to urban migration. The great trek to the city is in search of opportunities and other comforts absent in the rural areas.
Peculiar to most rural areas is running treated water and electricity, 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 areas. 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 undertook affirmative action on land where land previously stolen by foreign white settlers and had been naturalised as legally theirs was taken and redistributed to disenfranchised natives beginning from the year 2000.
This, to a certain extent, has raised the standard of living of these new landowners but the standard could have been much higher without 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 and Preservation of National Cultural Heritage.
This ministry is faced with a mammoth task as there is a lot of work to be done to deliver the products of government in the rural areas.
But first let’s discuss the attractions of rural areas.
First, the countryside has cheaper land. The cost of land in metropolitan areas pushes 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 landowner 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 to permanent residency, hence people’s inclination to community development will be driven by a quest for personal development.
It is the rural area which can be a dependable bastion for cultural preservation because of the homogeneous nature of community cultures.
It is difficult to suggest a homogeneous culture for Dzivaresekwa residents but it is 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, oftentimes making them fail to access 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 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, tobacco growing knowledge has widened resettled farmers’ wealth.
Now farmers’ access to wealth is enhanced by the land, a 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 before exporting it to the final consumer. Zimbabwe must export cigarettes, not raw tobacco.
It 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 by cutting transport costs of raw materials, the cost of both agricultural and industrial land, land taxes and rent. Rural areas will also undoubtedly supply cheaper labour to such factories.
Rural communities are also at the mercy of their service and goods providers who provide sub-standard products and services.
Tobacco growing communities are in bad need of better housing and other shared infrastructure. These can be funded by their combined financial muscle.
Now enter the Tokwe Mukosi Dam, the pride of Zimbabwe — the mega dam commissioned yesterday by President Robert Mugabe and has the potential to transform rural communities in Masvingo with its 1,8 billion cubic metre capacity.
The dam will attract populations from wide and far and spark various forms of commerce which will feed into the national economy and alleviate poverty in its 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.