Indigenous Commerce shows we cannot declare a drought based on maize alone !!

While policy makers and formal institutions are quick to pronounce a drought on the basis of poor seasonal maize production, indigenous commerce looks at the performance of a wide range of commodities in people’s markets like Mbare, Malaleni, Sakubva, Kudzanayi and Garikayi, among others. The majority of smallholder farmers who provide commodities to people’s markets are now aware that in order to remain viable, they have to juggle more than three variables.   While policy makers and formal institutions are still promoting technical solutions, farmers and traders are embracing adaptive solutions.

Like other developing countries, Zimbabwe faces more adaptive challenges than technical challenges. Adapting various forms of knowledge into the local context is the biggest headache for policy makers and development partners. Farmers, traders, consumers and ordinary people who patronize indigenous commerce have some of the answers. According to these actors, Zimbabwean agriculture is many times more than a single crop like maize. Unless a collective approach to agriculture development is taken, most commodities will continue failing to meet their full potential.

Farmers and traders know that although learning from your own experience has its own challenges, it is far much better than learning from other people’s stories that are difficult to localize. Farmers and traders are always looking at ways through which formal and informal knowledge can creatively interact. One key realization from the indigenous commerce sphere is that our education system is producing graduates that are not able to function in complex situations where one has to juggle more than three variables to be successful. To grapple with the prevailing changing climate, farmers and traders are becoming good at deconstructing their experiences into various aspects. In order to be reliable, these experiences are reconstructed differently so that they succeed in indigenous commerce. This deconstruction and reconstruction requires a creative and exploration exchange in the market between all value chain actors (farmers, traders, transporters and consumers).

Policy makers and financial institutions have to realize that there are limits to technical solutions, particularly in a complex and changing climate. Indigenous commerce spheres like people’s markets allow farmers, traders, consumers and other actors to deconstruct what works in one place and reconstruct it in another place. Ideas for coping with drought in Masvingo are exchanged with those from Mashonaland East. Knowledge exchange processes are intensive and intuitive. Value chain actors in indigenous commerce have also learnt to bypass and ignore some of the classical reporting loops that are favoured by banks and other formal institutions.

Farmers and traders learn through direct exchange from periphery to periphery without taking a loop through formal institutions. Information and Communication Technologies (ICTs) are exacerbating these learning processes so much that farmers and traders are far much ahead in predicting climate change than formal technical institutions. Learning from each other’s experiences is best organized through peer-exchange learning. This is the sort of learning that will build the Zimbabwean economy.

Adaptive challenges currently confronting Zimbabwe require us to work hard in co-creating solutions. Stories from Asia and other countries can only inspire us so that we see what is possible. But the process of learning has to happen in the social system where the challenge occurs and that is not learning from books but learning by doing. We should move away from thinking of innovation in terms of technical solutions (known by experts only) to adaptive solutions where solutions have to be co-created by those feeling the heat and dealing with consequences of their actions.

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How else agriculture markets are more than just maize.

eMKambo recently examined menus of a variety of restaurants in Bulawayo to get an idea of the food in circulation. The table below shows how maize is just one of many ingredients that also deserve attention in agriculture development.

Restaurants serving diverse foods in Bulawayo.

Table 1: Restaurants serving diverse foods in Bulawayo

Restaurant Orders
SIS BEE’S RESTAURANT Tripe – 20kg per day.
Beef – 30kg per day.
Beef Biltong – 15kg per week.
Oxtail – 10kg per day.
Chicken Makaya (road runners) – 10 birds per day.
Mabele (sorghum) 10kg per day.
Nyawuthi (pearl millet) – 10kg per day.
Maize Meal – 20kg per day
AFRO-FOODS RESTAURANT Broiler Chickens 15 birds per day.
Stewing Beef 15kg per day.
Beef Bones 25kg per day.
Potatoes 4 pockets per day.
Mealie -meal 15kg per day.
Rice- 5kg per day.
Sugar beans- 2kg per day.
Vegetables: Tomatoes, Tsunga, Cabbage, Chomoulia and Spinach.
Chicken Necks.
Amanqina (Mazondo).
T- Bone.
Chomoulia, Tomatoes and Cabbage.
Chicken Makaya (road runner).
Beef .
Vegetables – Cabbage, Spinach, Rape, Chomoulia and Ulude(nyeve).
EZIMNANDI RESTAURANT Amanqina (Mazondo) – 10 hooves per day.
Inhloko/ Nyama ye Musoro (Meaty Parts of a Cow’s head).
Ezangaphakathi / Zvemkathi / Tripe – 5kg per day.
Chicken Makaya (road runner) – 7 birds per day.
Vegetables – Rape, Chomoulia and Spinach.
CHICKEN TASTE RESTAURANT Makaya Chicken (road runner) – 3 birds per day.
Broiler Chicken – 4 birds per day.
Stewing beef – 3kg per day.
Whole fish – 10kg per day.
Chicken Feet and Gizzards – 2kg per day.
Liver and Heart – 2kg per day.
GREY’S INN RESTAURANT Stewing Beef – 3kg per day.
Broiler Chicken Pieces – 2kg per day.
Tripe – 2kg per day.
SELBOURNE HOTEL RESTAURANT Stewing beef – 4kg per day.
Broiler Chicken Pieces – 2kg per day.
Tripe – 2kg per day.
Nyawuti (Millet).
Maize meal.
Chicken Makaya (road runner).
Stewing Beef.
KAHAWA RESTAURANT Stewing beef – 3kg per day.
Tripe/Zvemukati – 2kg per day.
Chicken Makaya (road runner) -3 birds per day.

The above table indicates more opportunities for farmers than relying on maize-based agribusiness. In addition, the following brief analysis on Mbare wholesale market also testifies to the breadth of agriculture opportunities in Zimbabwe.

Mbare wholesale market analysis – February 2015.
Although economic hardships are negatively affecting consumer buying power, people’s markets like Mbare continue shining. A total of eleven products traded in Mbare Wholesale market commanded an Estimated Revenue of nine hundred and eighty seven thousand, four hundred and sixty dollars ($ 987,460.00) in February 2015.

Table 2: E R by Produce type, tonnage and percentage share of total ER.


The price of potatoes per ton increased by 9 % from January’s $ 733.33 to trade at $ 800.00 in February 2015. There has generally been a shortage of potatoes, driving prices up.

Graph2: Estimated revenue by produce type.

Table 3: E R by province


Graph 3: Expected Revenue (E R) by province

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Mike Musiiwa

Mike Musiiwa

Thanks very much for the info

Cyprian Mwlae

Cyprian Mwlae

Good information tips, think like a businessman/lady who never wants to loose but finds a solution or alternative to keep him/her going.

Charles Dhewa

Charles Dhewa

Thanks for the encouraging feedback. We don’t just need to think outside the box but create new boxes as well.

Waving from the people’s market,