Promoting Networks for Improved Livelihoods

Aug 18, 2017

A participant at the Onai Farmers market on the 10th June 2017 Photo/UNDP

Saturday 10th of June, 2017 saw a cold and crisp winters day dawn over Harare. At a few minutes past 7am small-scale farmers and craftspeople from all corners of Zimbabwe began trickling into the Harare Showgrounds to ready their stalls for business. The event was the Ownai Farmers Fair supported by the United Nations Development Programme and the Zimbabwe Farmers Union (ZFU).

This groundbreaking initiative was launched for two key reasons: firstly, to provide a medium where some of Zimbabwe’s largest supermarket chains and Agricultural market players could interact with some of Zimbabwe’s smallest farmers. Through this medium both parties can learn about the needs and challenges faced by the other. Through this understanding it is envisaged that mutually beneficial and sustainable partnerships will be created, resulting in improved livelihoods for rural communities. Furthermore, it will also mean more Zimbabwe grown goods on the shelves of Zimbabwe’s shops.

Secondly, the Market Fair provided a platform for farmers and craftspeople to display and sell their products directly to the public. In this aspect their success speaks for itself. Over 40 farmers and craftspeople attended, bringing with them a range of sample goods from handmade baskets to groundnuts to pumpkins. Sales of these sample products reached over USD 10,000. However, the real result was seen in the amount of orders placed by larger buyers, which was described by participants as overwhelming. Many of these orders were for repeat orders making the actual total order value much higher and bringing a key element of sustainability to the business activities of the farmers and craftspeople.

In support of the innovation component of the project, the Econet OWNAI e-marketing platform was introduced to farmers. Through this platform, farmers will be helped to advertise their produce and crafts digitally on Ownai, thus introducing the farmers to e-commerce, and spreading their market access beyond their local areas and the occasional fair.

The sublime level of orders highlights the degree of commercial demand for quality produce in Zimbabwe. These statement were echoed by the farmers and craftspeople in attendance: "the farmers market very much enhanced my understanding of the buyers’ expectations as they explained their specifications and the trainings they provide" said one farmer from Matabele Land North. While another from Manicaland added: "I managed to link up with buyers from different organisations"  

As part of the event, a prize-giving ceremony was organized, featuring a wide array of participants. The undisputed winner of the day was the Negomo Cooperative from Mazoe District in the province of Mashonaland Central. Their eclectic range of fresh fruits and vegetables combined with their innovative and energetic display made them the clear winners in the eyes of the judges.

Second prize went to Mr. Tawanda Chimhini from Manicaland who impressed the judges with his presentation of assorted dried products including: dried vegetables; dried bananas; dried mangoes; roasted nuts; chilli peppers; sugar beans; ginger powder; ginger bread; and banana muffins.

A Savings and Credit Cooperative from Lupane won third prize.

All three prize winners walked away with brand new smart phones, courtesy of Ownai. "I won a prize and I have learned so many different thing, including gaining valuable contacts!" a young craftswoman from Lupane Women Association remarked.

When the sun set over Harare showgrounds, the farmers were given the opportunity for a tour around the Avondale branch of Bon Marche grocery store. Here the farmers got firsthand experience of the quality and packaging standards required by large grocery stores. When the Bon Marche representative was asked what advice he had for young farmers trying to get their goods into larger retail outlets, he simply replied: “A vegetable washing machine and packaging go a long way”.

The 40 or so farmers and craftspeople departed Harare early the following day for their long journey back to their respective farms and businesses. They left with much lighter luggage and many new ideas. One Farmers Market in Harare is not going to transform the fortunes of the majority of rural Zimbabweans who live in poverty. But it has highlighted the strong underlying demand which exists for quality products made in rural Zimbabwe, whether they be carrots or walking sticks. All that is required is to find innovative ways to cultivate, nurture and positon the supply of these goods so that they can meet this demand.