Friday, June 15, 2007

(HERALD) Rural development feeds national growth

Rural development feeds national growth
By Albert Nhamoyebonde

A SERIES of programmes on economic development that coincided with the celebration of Africa Day were aired recently by the BBC World Service. Of particular interest was the one on South Korea and Zambia. It was reported that when Zambia became independent in 1964, it was at the same level of economic development as South Korea.

Now in 2007, the economy of South Korea is 18 times bigger than that of Zambia despite the fact that both countries were once colonies, settled by Japan and Britain respectively.

Another example is that of Ghana and Malaysia that celebrated 50 years of independence from British rule.

Malaysia’s GNP per capita has increased from US$247 in 1957 to about US21 000 in 2006 whereas Ghana’s income has marginally increased from US$247 to US$700 over the same period.

Economic experts were asked why development in Africa has lagged behind that of Asian countries.

The reasons given for South Korea’s rapid development were very interesting. Just like Zambia, South Korea had about 80 percent of its population in the rural areas, but now this has been reversed with about 80 percent now living in towns and cities. As for Zambia, nothing much has changed.

How did South Korea achieve this?

They started their development in the rural areas. Farming was mechanised to increase production.

The country was helped by the family and community cohesion in their society. Their political system was built on a strong government backed by the army.

In Zambia, although there was a one-party state system, development in the rural areas did not receive priority compared to what the South Koreans did.

It follows, therefore, that rural development may be the key to economic development. Today, South Korea has become an industrialised country that manufactures goods in various fields from heavy machinery, cars to electronics for domestic consumption and for export.

What lessons can we learn from all this?

In Zimbabwe, unfortunately, the relocation of indigenous people from their fertile lands to rural regions with less rainfall and infested with tsetse flies was the greatest impediment in the development of rural areas.

The same could have happened in Zambia although the economic experts on the BBC programme did not address this issue. But, Zimbabwe has to start somewhere to achieve sustainable economic development.

It has to start with farming and the rural areas. Greater resources have to be allocated to these areas.

To start with, Zimbabwe has to be self-sufficient in food requirements for the population in the cities, but of greatest importance in the rural areas to control rural-urban migration, that necessitated Operation Murambatsvina/Restore Order.

To start with, it is a welcome development that China is assisting Zimbabwe with tractors and other implements for the development of both commercial agriculture and communal subsistence farming.

But, this is not an easy task. Already some farmers are abusing this scheme by selling inputs like fertilizers, seed and diesel on the black market. What is required is the cohesion of our communities to uplift the standard of living of the people by expanding the economic base on the farms and in rural areas.

The major driver of inflation has been identified as the increase in food prices. This happens if there are shortages.

This was echoed by a vegetable market trader interviewed on ZTV recently, who, when he was asked about prices of various products at their market, explained the rise in prices as being caused by less deliveries of produce to the market during the winter season.

It has been said many times over that Zimbabwe’s industry can only expand if the agriculture sector is sorted out.

Asian countries have gone through this painful exercise. Recently, China removed the agriculture tax levied on rural farmers.

The farmers will now have more income to invest in their operations.

Even with its rapid economic growth in the cities, China has not abandoned its rural development programmes which were the catalyst to the economic boom the country is experiencing.

What manpower does Zimbabwe require in the rural development programmes? China, Malaysia, and South Korea deployed trained engineers, mechanics, technicians and agriculturists to spearhead the development programmes in the farming areas.

What is required is to produce surplus for export and for processing industries.

The computers that have been distributed in all village secondary schools by President Mugabe should be used to capture data on the level of production in every village, district and province.

The data would be useful to the planners and policymakers.

But, in conclusion, security is of utmost importance on the farms and in rural areas. Maybe, prosperity in these areas could be the answer.

lAlbert Nhamoyebonde is a medical scientist with the University of Zimbabwe; he can be contacted on: anhamoyebonde AT

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