As in many countries around the world, Zimbabwe is facing the combined challenges of rural poverty and high levels of migration to urban centres. As people move to cities in search of employment and a better life, the increased urban population places a huge strain on public services and infrastructure. Rural development is, therefore, key for improving quality of life for people in all areas of Zimbabwe, so it is no surprise that it is a key priority for the government and aid agencies there.
A recent scheme that is supported by the government, NGOs and civil society groups, has had promising results when it comes to tackling rural unemployment and poverty. The initiative, Training for Rural Economic Empowerment (TREE), offers training and loans to young people aged 18 to 30, which help them set up income generating projects. So far it has directly helped 10,000 people and Manzoor Kaliq, chief technical adviser with International Labour Organisation, tells IRIN news that it is already stemming the flow of rural to urban migration.
At the core of TREE is its grassroots approach to assessing the eligibility and viability of the different project proposals. Instead of having loan decisions being made by officials who do not know the individuals involved, all applicants are vetted by local experts, such as village heads and local government personnel. Though the final decision is taken by the national steering group, this grassroots approach ensures that the money goes to the right people, such as Samuel Mharidzo.
Samuel received a loan and training from TREE to help him begin to farm a range of vegetables on the patch of land he owns. He tells IRIN that this initial support has enabled him to achieve “things I never dreamt I could ever have in a whole lifetime” and his success has impacted the community more broadly. As well as investing more into his business and building a new modern house for his family, he has also been able to help support similar projects by five other villagers.
Samuel's story is an excellent example of what local empowerment and a grassroots approach can achieve, but there is also a need for wider reforms if rural poverty is going to be tackled effectively. For a start, many people still lack secure land tenure rights, which makes it difficult for them to access formal credit from banks. Therefore, experts have argued that creating more secure systems of land ownership will be essential to long lasting development in rural areas.
Investment in rural infrastructure, like roads, irrigation and rural a more steady supply of electricity, is equally important. Just as with reforms to land ownership, these projects are impossible for individuals to undertake alone so it requires broader action. With an estimated 80% of people out of work in rural Zimbabwe, it certainly demands this widespread attention. With the right mix of local knowledge and national action it could be possible to reach an enduring solution to this longstanding challenge.
In Zimbabwe and around the world, SOS Children equips families from poor and isolated communities for self-sufficiency through skills training, micro-loans and tailored support to match individual needs. Find out more about our community outreach work.