Charles Dhewa Correspondent
There is often no reliable market for agricultural products in most agricultural areas because everyone has the same product.
No one sees the need to buy what they already have. It takes demand from communities where basic commodities are scarce for farmers in high-production areas to earn income from their farming activities.
However, the greatest value comes from non-agricultural activities such as mining, tourism, forestry, service industries and several types of value-added industries.
Many farmers are realizing that it is not enough to depend on agriculture for their livelihood in a sustainable way.
Some of the brilliant combinations that are gaining ground include agriculture and carpentry, agriculture and trade as well as agriculture and commodity processing in local business centers and growth points like Murambinda, Jerera , Nkayi, Lupane, Binga, Gokwe, Magunje, Murazabani, Checheche and many others.
Building a more demanding farmer
While many people continue to view farming as a much easier business, an increase in the number of farmers and products increases the complexity of farming as a business in Zimbabwe.
The ability to produce raw materials is no longer an advantage. Profit-oriented farmers need the skills to scan the environment for signs of change and be able to react quickly.
Unfortunately, most agricultural training courses do not allow farmers to make the connection between people, ideas and markets. An informed perspective is becoming more important than ever to anticipate market expectations.
According to the evidence gathered by eMKambo, some of the most successful farmers are now dependent on non-farm activities. These farmers have become aware of their various roles.
A farmer can be an artisan, a breeder, a trader, a paraveter, etc. This is normally critical when a new variety of seeds or a new breed of cattle enters a community. Someone has to know how to grow it, process it or package it, and sell it.
This led to the development of production, processing and preservation utensils such as baskets fashioned from local reeds, clay pots and ripe grindstones and grindstones.
Some farmers ended up specializing in the production of cattle yorks, hides, drums and other tools. It all starts with the entry of goods into the communities.
Innovation around existing local technologies
Most farmers don’t want to idle their off-season. They engage in the production or repair of tools in anticipation of the next agricultural season.
This is how they start to innovate around existing technology. For example, blacksmiths can begin repairing plows, replacing some parts with local, stronger forms of iron.
Tools such as scotch-carts, tractors, motorcycles, bicycles from elsewhere in the community are studied and repaired locally.
The use of local resources is also common to produce drums for entertainment or traditional purposes, baskets for transporting food to market, clay pots for cooking and storage of certain varieties of crops. All of these tools are a source of income.
Most community tools have gender dimensions. Some modern businesses have become the domain of women because women are good at processing peanuts and producing other products for women.
Where skills have been passed down from generation to generation, women become manufacturers of winnowing baskets and other processing utensils. These skills create niches for specialists and can be expressed through goods that do not often pass through urban markets.
This is also how the community of practice-oriented industries grew. Unfortunately, they remain largely undocumented.
Linking entrepreneurship and crafts to agriculture produces a complete and resilient ecosystem. Unfortunately, this is not taken further into the modern world to patent local investment models.
Some knowledge is stolen or misappropriated and returns in the form of negative perceptions of local technologies. For example, local peanut butter is considered to be full of aflatoxins and therefore unhealthy.
The same label is affixed to meat and other foods processed and preserved according to indigenous methods. This colonial mentality in the name of science breaks the relationships that should build local businesses through traceable evolutionary paths.
Locally brewed beer is labeled unhealthy, forcing many local consumers to visit local bottle shops, reluctant to support their local socio-economic ecosystems.
Several SMEs that now produce agricultural tools like plows and hoes have learned their skills through Indigenous Knowledge Systems (IKS).
This knowledge has moved to growth points and high-end markets like Harare. The baskets come from the Honde Valley, linked to indigenous knowledge related to the transport of avocados and other products from these regions.
Mutoko farmers have become good at recycling pallets to create crates and boxes of tomatoes so they don’t cut down trees for this purpose. Where small grains are common, suitable tools have been developed for generations.
It is the same story in communities where livestock farming is a major socio-economic driver. All this knowledge must be documented and preserved as it constitutes an economic engine for industrialization and rural development.
The power of inclusive socio-economic networks
Most rural communities where agriculture is a major economic driver are beginning to thrive on inclusive networks in which agriculture coexists with non-farm sectors.
In addition to generating effective socio-economic wisdom, these networks are slowly evolving towards resilient governance systems. They also show how significant socio-economic progress comes from focusing beyond formal organizations to embrace society at large.
In many rural districts of Zimbabwe, silent networks, some based on kinship and clan ties, encompass various sectors and stakeholders to work together on common aspirations and goals at the community level.
As they solve most of their local challenges, these networks are an emerging form of effective governance. Development actors and policymakers can make a difference by improving the functionality, wisdom and impact of these networks so that they can organize community affairs and determine the collective fate of local populations.
Many communities that have seen donor support fail to deliver permanent solutions are excited about the evolving power of their local networks, driven by relevant economic drivers such as agriculture, crafts and non-farm economic activities.
Influence the emergence of knowledgeable local networks in rural communities
Due to the absence of predictable markets and increasing climate variability, community networks and relationships are diversifying and adapting at scale as part of coping mechanisms.
Rather than wait for formal top-down organizations, many local networks have started to share field activities and address local community issues as they unfold.
Traditional leaders, community leaders and local businesses see the merits of coming together to build resilient communities.
In doing so, agriculture becomes a more powerful engine of growth. Examples of this new awareness are the increase in the number of communities building their own local markets and storage centers where they can group their produce, sort and grade before inviting buyers.
This slowly resolves the age-old problem where farmers in a community would compete in the same urban market.
An important part of the new awareness is working together for a shared impact on poverty, local health systems and climate change. In most cases, agriculture is the driving force behind most of these initiatives.
When money is not available, agricultural products are used as currency. Communities have realized that if they are to wait for money from elsewhere, they will have to wait a very long time before their situation begins to improve.
Thousands of committed eyes, ears, heads, hands and hearts working together on the ground in all aspects of the issues that concern them can quickly improve the level and texture of their impact rather than waiting for the donor support, which often weakens their social fabric.
Using agriculture to appeal to the crowd of solutions and priorities
Instead of seeing agriculture as the only source of income, many communities are beginning to look beyond narrowly framed interests to develop common goals and standards around multiple non-farm socio-economic opportunities.
Where agriculture is the main economic driver, it is only used to mobilize local solutions and priorities.
Previously overlooked sources of wisdom, such as informal markets, and relationships are now included in community decision-making.
By working together in an inclusive manner, communities take into account a wide range of perspectives, experiences, interests and needs.
This ensures that everyone is aware of the long term benefits of local initiatives instead of relying on short term interventions from outside.
- Charles Dhewa is a proactive Knowledge Management Specialist and Managing Director of Knowledge Transfer Africa (Pvt) (www.knowledgetransafrica.com) whose flagship product eMKambo (www.emkambo.co.zw) is present in more than 20 agricultural markets in Zimbabwe. He can be reached on: [email protected]; Mobile: +263 774 430 309/772 137 717/712 737 430.