Harare — A government-approved programme to give micro-loans and training to young people in rural areas is helping to stem the influx of migrants to Zimbabwe's urban centres.
Up to 10,000 young people aged 18-32 (48 per cent of them women) have directly benefited from this programme, says the International Labour Organisation (ILO), but the problem is huge as young people (defined as above) make up 80 percent of the unemployed, according to the official statistics agency ZIMSTAT.
"By setting up income generation projects for youths in rural areas, we are also reversing rural to urban migration," said Manzoor Khaliq, chief technical adviser with ILO, which initiated the programme in Zimbabwe. "Once youths see the benefits of staying in their rural communities, they will not move to cities and towns and create pressure on the urban economy."
Training for Rural Economic Empowerment (TREE), which is also supported by the government, the Zimbabwe Congress of Trade Unions (ZCTU), the Employers' Confederation of Zimbabwe (EMCOZ), the Danish Africa Commission and SNV (an international NGO) has already covered half the country and invested some US$8 million, said Khaliq.
How TREE works
Prospective beneficiaries under TREE submit business proposals. These are then vetted by local structures including village heads, the Ministry of Youth, and personnel from the district administrator's office to determine the youths' poverty status and age, and to assess the project's viability.
A second tier of assessment is done by a provincial committee and the final proposal is then forwarded to the national steering committee comprising several ministries, ILO, ZCTU, EMCOZ, the UN Development Programme, UN Women, SNV and representatives of commerce and financial institutions.
Most of the projects are agro-based and include fish farming, poultry, dairy production, piggeries, horticulture and beekeeping.
Samuel Mharidzo, 30, from rural Murewa about 100km northeast of Harare, decided to stay in his village. Having failed his High School exams he had resigned himself to being a cattle herder in his village. But thanks to TREE his fortunes have changed dramatically.
"I started off with carrots and leaf vegetables, but have since diversified to include potatoes and sweet potatoes that I sell in Harare. The results are amazing as I have managed to achieve so much in a short space of time - things I never dreamt I could ever have in a whole lifetime," he told IRIN.
Two years into his project, Mharidzo secured a $5,000 loan from a money-lending institution with the help of ILO that helped him buy a small truck for transporting his produce.
Apart from building a modern house for his family of three, he has also renovated his widowed mother's house, bought seven cows and four goats, and invested in two ploughs, three wheelbarrows and an ox-drawn cart. He has a small grocery and employs an assistant to help run it. He has two other permanent hands to help him with the horticulture project, and also hires casual labourers when needed.
Last year, he helped his younger brother start a similar project on a small plot donated by their mother, by providing him with some start-up capital and skills that he had acquired under TREE.
"In fact, I have helped up to five other villagers start their own projects. They might not be doing as well as I am but they will grow with time. This way, a big number of people from my village will manage to generate their own income and even employ others. That will make it unnecessary to go to Harare, for instance, to look for a job," said Mharidzo.
Zimbabwe-based independent economist John Robertson commended the programme but said the government needed to address the issue of land tenure. "Most of the projects under the programme are agro-based. Unfortunately, a good number of the beneficiaries are using land that does not have title deeds as they are doing their projects on resettled land."
The government embarked on a fast-track, and sometimes violent, land redistribution exercise from 2000, seizing farms from around 4,500 commercial white farmers and giving them to thousands of landless blacks. It subsequently gave 99-year leases to the new owners of subdivided farming plots, but banks are reluctant to accept them as collateral.
"The project needs to have security of tenure so that they can borrow from banks independently, but the leases have proved to be unsuccessful in that regard," said Robertson.
Under TREE, ILO channels funds to service providers such as finance institutions and the money is used as a revolving fund. ILO also provides technical support and helps to develop the land, some of which is donated by villagers.
"We are trying to link the beneficiaries to the formal market and help them graduate from being informal businesspeople. We are connecting them to crucial associations so that they can benefit from interaction with them," said Khaliq. He thinks the programme is practical as it identifies opportunities in the communities themselves. TREE also "assesses the real needs of the people using grassroots input, rather than imposing its own projects".
While TREE "is sensitive to the practical needs of the locals, and beneficiaries can draw from the rich expertise given by programme partners, a lot more needs to be done to revive the economy at a national level," Nyasha Muchichwa, an economist with the ZCTU-affiliated Labour and Economic Research Institute of Zimbabwe (LEDRIZ), told IRIN.
More needs to be done
Robertson pointed out that to make a significant transformation in rural areas, there was a need to upgrade rural roads, ensure a steady supply of electricity, improve irrigation, and better market beneficiaries' produce.
TREE is due to end this year. "There will be an expanded cycle that will hopefully cover the whole country... The mountain is still huge and there is more that needs to be done to enhance rural skills, job creation and development," said Khaliq.
According to the 2012 census, 67 percent of the more than 13 million population lives in rural areas. The government says around 11 percent of its employable population is without work, though independent economists put the unemployment rate at more than 80 percent.
[This report does not necessarily reflect the views of the United Nations.]