Columnists

Rural investment key to rural poverty alleviation

MATTHEW MUSHIKITI

Analysis: MATTHEW MUSHIKITI
WE CONTINUE to experience a spiral cycle of poverty especially among rural communities in most African countries.
The most fascinating experience is that most African cities seemingly are recording some levels of improvements, in areas such as upgrading of unplanned urban settlements, improved markets (though most of them have not responded to the needs of local marketeers with low capital base, but created trading spaces for foreigners with financial muscles to meet high shop rentals in malls), upgrading of township roads making it easy for movement within towns, improved drainage systems, upgrading of most urban clinics to first level hospitals (as can be seen with Matero First Level Hospital, Chilenje First Level Hospital, Chipata First Level Hospital and other provincial hospitals into central hospitals such as Chipata Central Hospital in Eastern Province and many other developmental aspects recorded so far.
However, much as such strides have been recorded, the gap in terms of development between urban and rural areas if not checked and balanced, may make it worse for rural communities to cope with economic hardships coupled with the effects of climate change.
The variance in terms of urban and rural development is too wide.
The experience from rural interaction shows that rural areas in Africa, especially in Zambia have not seen much investment for poverty alleviation.
Job creation is a function of investment, poverty reduction is also a function of job creation due to income earnings.
In as much as social safety net programmes such as social cash transfer (SCT), food security pack among others, have seen increase in numbers of beneficiaries, rural poverty is on a rise.
And one of the reasons for that disparity in terms of rural poverty against urban poverty is lack of rural investments in areas such as education, health, road network, communication, markets and storages, agro-processing for rural products, financial markets etc.
There are places where pupils still sit on logs and worse without chalk boards in the classrooms. Teachers can be in a pole and mud house, and have to use an ox-cart to go to a bank for their salary taking four days and someone expects learning to take place.
There are still rural areas where pregnant mothers have to walk 20 kilometres for antenatal services.
There is a feeling that rural areas’ potential to move out of poverty is given a blind eye and seemingly even rural Members of Parliament (MPs) seem to play political economy for their own development and not that of their electorate.
There are some selfish rural MPs who benefit from rural poverty by creating much more poverty for their voters.
Even their debates in Parliament is a misplaced focused group discussion, manipulating public discourse.
Most rural areas have seasonal and year-round products that can be a source of income if only investment can be looked at.
Take for example, most parts of rural Zambia produce mangoes in large quantities yet only 0.2 percent is consumed locally, and 99.08 percent goes to waste.
Imagine under the much-talked industrial cluster programme. If processing plants were to be set in each province to process drinks from mangoes, how much money would villagers make?
Eastern Province has a lot of villagers who grow groundnuts and cotton yet no proper markets exist for them to sell their produce.
My own village Kaka in Mbala, people grow beans and cassava and not to mention natural mangoes, yet there are no markets.
Shangombo in the Western Province, has paw paw trees almost at each household, yet only a fraction are consumed, the rest go to waste because there are no markets, not to mention the non-existence road even if markets were heard to be somewhere.
All these areas require investment if we are to fight rural poverty in Africa, and Zambia in particular.
We need advocates of rural investment in infrastructure, agro-processing industries, and the right advocates for such are rural members of Parliament.
Zambia must realise that rural areas can only fight poverty with best investment mix, investment in social and productive infrastructure such as roads, education, health, markets and storages, agro-processing plants, communication and financial services would create linkages between urban and rural areas and in the long run, rural poverty would be a thing of the past.
The is need for paradigm shift, there is need for rural investment engagement, there is need to explore rural potentials and package them, market them, and distribute them across the nation.
As long as investment is concentrated in urbans, and along the line of rail, people of Shangombo, Mitete, Chavuma, Musoro, Kaka, Milenge and many other parts of the country, will always live, walk in and out of their round grass thatched pole and mud houses and sink each day in and out in poverty, and will eventually die in poverty. Government institutions such as Zambia Development Agency (ZDA), Industrial Development Corporation (IDC) must begin to harness rural areas’ investment potentials in their Development documents and strategic plans for Zambia’s development.
President Edgar Lungu’s desire for inclusive development without leaving anyone behind must be actualised now.
We must begin to serve our rural generation now. We cannot continue to hear the empty talk when our rural communities are sinking deep in poverty. We must take responsibility and invest in rural areas.
The prosperity of any African country, and Zambia inclusive, lies on investment on its people. There is need to secure the future of rural generation by investing in rural areas.
There is hopelessness among rural communities to the point that they have gone to the extent of sharing water with animals.
And these are issues we expect rural MPs to be talking about, wooing cooperating partners in investing in their respective rural constituencies. What have we seen them doing? Spending more time and money in public rallies and courts showing solidarity to their political party leaders, and only remember their electorate when it’s an election time, and all they do is take chitenge materials and salt.
We must stop rural trade offs and rural MPs must be held accountable for rural investment. There is an urgent need to incorporate rural areas in the investment portfolios and change the face of rural African lives.
Rural areas must be part of the large picture of the country. We must prioritise rural areas, and upgrade them.
The author is a socio-economic planner/student.

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