I HAVE the privilege of writing from Zimbabwe where I am spending a couple of days. Once you have survived the Animal Farm chaos of entering the country through BeitBridge, you can really have an exciting and memorable visit.
If half our politicians just experienced a quarter of what the rest of us have to endure just to get into the country through the BeitBridge border post, then all the border issues would have been solved long time ago.
I have always wondered how many visitors just stay away from Zimbabwe because they cannot endure BeitBridge border. It is in this vain that I welcome a suggestion by Mthuli Ncube of the African Development Bank that BeitBridge should be converted into one-stop border post.
The country is still pregnant with opportunities whose gestation period is being lengthened by our collective hesitancy to bite the bullet and do what needs to be done. The country is still largely a tale of two groups of people – a large mass of “have-nots” at the bottom and the few privileged haves perched at the top with a sprinkling of some “desire to have” in the middle.
Those with the “desire to have” can transverse the divide between them and the haves, once they identify and exploit a particular opportunity. If they fail, then they slide down to the large pool of “have nots”.
The financial survival of most of the “have nots”, largely located in the rural areas, is inextricably linked to the rainfall patterns of the area. I went through my own village where I grew up and for probably the third year in a row, they are going to harvest absolutely nothing again but not for lack of trying though. They may even be the unintended victims of climate change, a phenomenon they neither know about, nor did they participate in causing.
Every year, they have dutifully put their seeds to the ground, weeded the young crop, even applied fertiliser but while they were waiting for the bumper harvest the rains disappeared. When you do the maths of all the finances that these villagers put to the ground with no return, it is absolutely devastating.
There is no human being anywhere in the world who is wired for handouts. Receiving handouts year-in year-out does terrible things to their self-esteem. Much of these rural villages enter that period which Charles Mungoshi euphemistically called "waiting for the rain" prone to repeat the same vicious cycle if the rain decides to show up in October, disappearing in early January.
There is need for us as a country to develop a sustainable rural-based model that would reduce the reliance on the pattern of rainfall. Unfortunately, our politicians' eyes are now firmly focussed on the next election which may or may not happen in 2012 or 2013.
While I do believe in the value of democratic elections, I do not buy the notion that it will answer all our socio-economic maladies. We need more innovative national thinking that transcends short term elections focussed on delivering a better life for those still trapped in the ‘have not’ cycle.
We now have a number of universities packed with the cream of our national intelligentsia, but what we require from them is the conversion of theoretical knowledge into applied knowledge for the upliftment of our country.
I have had the benefit of doing some work in a number of agro-based regions of South Africa and I have observed that much of their agriculture is not a direct function of the rainfall pattern. It is more directly correlated to the irrigation infrastructure. Building dams is indeed a good start but it is not the end.
The village I come from has benefitted from a new dam build across the Mpudzi River. Apart from the boon for those of us who enjoy bass fishing, there is no harvesting of this water resource for cropping purposes currently happening. Once a dam is built, there is need to deliver the water affordably to the cropping fields.
If you are not in Nyanyadzi, Chakohwa or many areas of the Lowveld where water can just be delivered to the fields through gravity, then you require energy to deliver the water.
The Matabeleland Zambezi Water Project – long mooted – is not just a romantic pipe dream but a sustainable agricultural model which could green a large part of our dry lands resulting in improved livelihoods.
If we added an additional 3000MW of power generation capacity, our growing economy could consume this added capacity in less than ten years. This national planning requires futuristic thinking going beyond the horizon of the next election.
Energy costs money which must be paid for in one way or another. Unfortunately, when it comes to paying for energy, our political leaders are terrible examples. The government is unable to provide the funds for the huge infrastructural gap that exists in the agro-industries space. There is need for massive incentives to entice the private sector to bring to invest in this space.
Contrary to widely-held perceptions, rural people are quite amenable to change once the benefits are clearly understood and explained. It is not that the “have nots” are not willing to work for improving their lives. All they require is guidance to move from just working hard to working smarter and harder.
For sustainable livelihoods in rural areas, we need our intelligentsia to assist in adoption of innovation from land preparation, planting of seeds, crop care to harvest. There is ample opportunities for further innovation from post-harvest handling, logistical arrangements for delivering the harvest in time, right quality and price to the appropriate market.
We can excel as a nation in this field when we plan, allocate resources, and act with the long term goal in mind.
Tafirenyika L. Makunike is the chairman and founder of Nepachem cc (www.nepachem.co.za), an enterprise development and consulting company. He writes in his personal capacity