Possibilities for driving rural industrialisation through semi processing agricultural commodities
Full scale commercial food processing in most rural African communities is handicapped by lack of electricity and reliable water supply. Rural areas also tend to attract low funding for such agribusinesses. While these challenges may prevent the production of finished products in rural areas, there are strong possibilities for unlocking value through semi-processing activities.
All these commodities can be semi-processed at source, enabling producers to earn more
For instance, there is no reason why farmers should continue selling unshelled groundnuts when there is more value in shelled groundnuts whose quality can be clearly seen by the eye – satisfying consumers, buyers and sellers. Unfortunately, groundnut shelling technology hasn’t taken off in African farming communities the way mobile technology has gained a foothold. Farmers continue to sell raw commodities to urban markets. Shelling groundnuts at farm level enables grading, sorting and even selling in weight (kilogrammes) as opposed to continue selling using buckets (volume). Modernizing agriculture has to accompanied with a standard language such as use of kilogrammes to determine value and price. Semi processing activities like shelling, grading and roasting can enable farmers to come up with various products from their commodities. Blends of different commodities can also emerge from semi-processing.
Fresh groundnuts and fruits in the market
Another important semi-processing activity is dehulling maize resulting in some by-products remaining at farm level for chicken feed. This is unlike taking all the maize to urban areas where someone simply produces three by products and earn more than the producer. Dehulling does not require sophisticated technology. Farmers can pool their resources together at community level and acquire their own dehuller. Small grains can also be dehulled and even roasted to cater for different nutritional needs.
Why would rural people bring whole baobab fruits instead of bringing baobab powder which is less costly to transport to the market? There is also no reason why fruits like mango, mazhanje, masawu and amarula, to name just a few, cannot be converted into pulp or dried at community level. Smart agricultural engineers have amazing opportunities to invent appropriate pulp extraction and preservation technology suitable for all kinds of fruits rural and farming areas.
These indigenous fruits can be semi-processed at source instead of transporting them all the way to urban areas.
Some of the semi processing activities can happen at growth points and business centres rather than transporting all commodities to urban areas like Harare where waste disposal is becoming a headache. In addition, semi processing at grassroots level enables what remains to be recycled into animal feed and fertilizer, among other by-products. Semi-processing enterprises can operate as registered community-owned entities offering services to the whole community for a fee towards self-sustenance. These activities can be located at either ward or village levels.
Rather than taking raw sweet potatoes to Bulawayo and other markets, Gokwe South communities can produce sweet potato flour which can then be blended with wheat flour in baking bread. Sweet potatoes can also be converted into other products like juice and chips. Besides creating employment, semi-processing along agricultural value chains buttresses technology and skills transfer from urban to rural areas. Farmers end up imagining various ways of adding value to their raw commodities and increasing shelf lives of their commodities. Where a tomato would be thrown away when it goes bad, converting it into some kind of pulp increases its shelf life and storability. Solar and other forms of renewable energy being promoted by governments and development agencies should be harnessed to enhance semi-processing activities that are within the reach of rural and farming communities. While producing finished goods in rural areas is a great ambition, it’s important to know what can be realistically done.
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