Rural centres revived

shamva_shopSHAMVA - Life is trickling back to rural shopping centres after years of economic gloom that forced many businesses to close. (Pictured: Rural businesses are an indicator of how the economy is performing.)

A Friday night at Rutope Business Centre, some 40 kilometres out of Harare, sees a local bottle store thriving. The bar attendant shouts order, order! to the swarming drinkers jostling to buy their next brew. A few metres from the bottle store, Chakanyuka Store prides itself as the best shop in the area, with a variety of products in its different departments, from braaing services to a well-stocked grocery shop.

Cars of different shapes and sizes are parked all over the open space in front of the shops. Rural shop owners were hardest hit by the countrys decade long economic ruin and many of them closed. The dollarization of economy was slow to benefit rural businesses and they could not get capital to restock. Speaking to The Zimbabwean, a businessperson at Rutope said he only managed to acquire enough stock for his shop this January.

Business was slow during most of last year because villagers did not have access to the US (dollars) and we continued to suffer. But things changed during the festive season and sales rose so I was able to fully restock.

Rural centres situated near towns and cities, like Rutope, are also benefiting from the urbanites who can now afford to travel out for the weekend. Every weekend I stock up on 50 crates of beer and more than 75 kilograms of meat for the braai because we have many customers coming from Harare. Some are here for the weekend while others just for a day. During the past years, I sometimes failed to sell a single crate of beer a week, said the businessperson.

A Harare man, who identified himself as Masocha, said he had driven to Rutope with his family for a night away from the noise of the city. Every weekend I go out with my family. We sometimes go to Dema, Chihota, but Rutope is my favourite, he said. A Harare economist, Frederick Homodza, said rural business were an indicator of how the economy was performing as a whole.

If rural areas are warming up to the economic recovery, no matter how slowly, it shows there is a movement in the countrys economic recovery. Naturally the urban businesses are the first to respond to an economic upturn while the rural sector is first to react to a downturn, he said. However, this turn of fortunes is not merely the preserve of shop owners.

Widowed Lina Musari, 50, of Saratoga makes a living rearing and selling chicken to rural and peri-urban retailers. Her sales figures during the past three months rose from 50 to 80 chickens a week.

I am expanding my rearing houses to meet the increased demand for local chicken, she said, brandishing her upward spiralling sales chart. Musari started the chicken project in 2006, scrambling for buyers as the retail sector collapsed due to the then prevailing economic downturn. She soldiered on, often failing to secure chicken feed as the country experienced year on year droughts.

This year the rains came and Musari, together with many other rural small-scale entrepreneurs, are now managing to sell their products without fearing loss of currency value or skyrocketing prices.

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