ZIMBABWE: The seeds of plenty

News and Press Release
Originally published
HARARE, 13 January 2010 (IRIN) - In 2009 Zimbabwe withdrew the local dollar and allowed the use of foreign currency to bring down hyperinflation, but outside of urban centres this money is often scarce and also makes food expensive, so Godknows Chuma started growing his own and discovered that his green fingers could provide for his family.

"As is the case in many rural areas, the foreign currency was hard to come by and we were struggling to get money to buy basic commodities," Chuma, 34, told IRIN.

He decided to turn his yard into a market garden to produce fruit and vegetables to sell directly to consumers in April 2009, soon after the Zimbabwe dollar became obsolete.

Crippling hyperinflation had rendered the local dollar all but worthless and in February 2009 the economy was officially "dollarised". Economists stopped measuring inflation after it hit 6.5 quindecillion novemdecillion percent - 65 followed by 107 zeros.

Using the United States dollar, South African rand and Botswana pula as legal tender has helped rein in inflation, but they are seldom available in remote areas like Seke district, some 50km south of Harare, the capital, where Chuma lives.

A family affair

"I sold two chickens and bought the seed with which I started the garden project. Now the story is different because I make about US$10 a day, enough to buy foodstuffs and save for school fees and uniforms," said Chuma, a father of three.

"Growing vegetables is a hard job, but since I started this project my life has improved." He irrigates the garden with water drawn from a well he dug, but his family sometimes still has fetch extra water from the river a kilometre away.

Every morning he and his family pick the vegetables that are ready and make them into bundles that Chuma sells along the nearby road.

Getting organised

Samson Chanakira, 50, a village elder, said almost every household in the district has started a market garden, all modelled on Chuma's plot.

The bus stops along the nearby highway between Harare with the border city of Mutare, 265km southeast of the capital, are now surrounded by vegetable vendors who try to attract passing motorists and jostle for customers among the waiting passengers.

The more enterprising villagers are finding it more lucrative to avoid local competition and hire trucks to transport their produce to the capital and Chitungwiza, a large town about 30km from Harare.

Chanakira said he had started mobilising people to form a market gardening cooperative. "The idea of growing vegetables for sale is fast gaining momentum in this area, and this is because the villagers have realised that it is a way out of poverty. However, it would be better if we could pool our resources and sell our produce as one group."

Innocent Makwiramiti, a Harare-based economist and former chief executive officer of the Zimbabwe National Chamber of Commerce, also urged villagers to form cooperatives, as this would increase their chances of securing loans from financial institutions. He said the government should improve rural infrastructure, particularly water sources and roads.

"There is a need for the government and local authorities to play an active role in promoting market gardening in rural areas," he suggested. "This is a sure way of ensuring greater circulation of money in such communities, and reducing rural household poverty."