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Monday, 30 January 2012

Supporting creative rural enterprises

One of the areas which has been flagged up where more government attention is needed is the in the area of arts and crafts.  A recent media report notes that youths in Kafue are calling on the Zambia Tourism Board [ZTB] to consider marketing artifacts instead of "only concentrating on promoting natural wonders like the Victoria Falls alone". Kafue Crafts Centre's Lloyd Ndopu observes that, "Zambia Tourism Board should market the art and crafts as well, instead of only concentrating on marketing natural wonders to the outside world. Another thing is that we would like ZTB to provide linkages with bigger partners and greater markets".

The Handicrafts Association of Zambia have previous called for such a more proactive approach from Government in this area, going beyond simply "advertising". Peru's hat making provides a good example of how small initiatives can tap into rural culture to help create employment. In Zambia we have seen mild growth in village tourism. Beyond culture, the Zambian Soap Company provides a good example of what can be accomplished working with local people. 

In short, there are plenty of job stimulation opportunities for rural Zambians. The problem that the villages face is not being aware of these business opportunities, lack of capital and of course the challenges of marketing themselves abroad. In all of these three areas Government can do something to help. In terms of business opportunities, Government can work with rural Zambians to identify 'opportunities' for job creation. The key here is for Government to create an enabling environment where local people can create employment for themselves within the existing cultural settings. The 'enabling approach' is critical because 'opportunities' would would vary from place to place and we cannot simply expect everyone to make crafts!

This is why the recent announcement that Government has embarked on a national resource audit is welcome news. The idea is to comprehensive resource mapping in all the provinces to ascertain their economic potential that could lead to industrial clusters for small and medium enterprises. According to Commerce Minister Sichinga, "we are doing the resource auditing in each district and want to build industries around it and once we finish the auditing, we will establish institutions in these districts and we will also be working with members of Parliament to verify the kind of products found in their areas. We need to put in place appropriate infrastructure, such as tarred roads connecting each district, reliable energy and water supply, health and education facilities. As such, the ministry will work closely with the relevant institutions to make this strategy a reality". This vision appears to fit in with the need to aid the market discovery process. But Mr Sichinga forgot to flag up (and we hope has not forgotten)  is the need to improve access to credit - an issue we have discussed on this website many times here!

The angle which needs to looked at is how best to market abroad, in particular the role that creating networks can play. Many people have proposed used Zambian embassies abroad to help connect Zambian producers with foreign markets for these "creative enterprises", but we should also consider using Zambians abroad. There's much that Zambians abroad can do to group together and raise capital and tap into these business opportunities and work with Zambians in rural areas. Government strategy must include pro-actively engaging Zambians abroad to create such networks. There's much that can be gained from collective investments from Zambians abroad, instead of investing individually. The problem is that coordinating failures inhibit such networking and that is where Government should be stepping in to help. That brings us to another thorny question : what policies should government pursue that aids how such Zambian networks abroad can maximise rural economic growth? 

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