Strive Masiyiwa through his Facebook platform has been rolling out a very thought-provoking #ReImagineRural challenge. I personally understand why such a visionary challenge is so timely now. His focus is on the rural domain; in case you didn’t know, is because the majority of our nation’s population is rural – 68.9%. Applying innovative ideas to rural settlements can be a formidable precipice for modern day entrepreneurship in the country.

Innovative Technologies For Rural Farmers

He urges us to start thinking of innovative technologies & means of mechanization that can optimize rural farming activities. Traditional methods are now archaic (he suggests this by saying it’s time for the hoe to go to the museum). He gives a practical analogy of how on average it can take 40 days to till a piece of land that can be tilled in just 8 hours by use of a tractor. We must let go of traditional methods & start embracing new age technologies.

Generation Africa

He spoke about a partnership for young people called Generation Africa – entrepreneurs in the agribusiness arena. He hinted that it shall be launched in the next few months. This is a key aspect in reimagining rural; the late Kofi Annan said “Have confidence in young people, give them a chance & they will surprise you”. Recently I was intrigued to find out that 70% of the African continent’s 1.25 billion people are young people aged below 30. If we are to seriously reimagine rural we can’t exclude the young people.

Shared Economy Businesses Must Emerge

He points out that the number of businesses operating with a shared economy business model must be on the rise. Examples are businesses like Vaya or Uber. An example of such a business that can be central to the rural domain is Hello Tractor in Nigeria. Basically with Hello Tractor a farmer can request for a tractor via an app or booking agent (booking agents are for those who aren’t tech savvy). Once request is approved a tractor operator comes & does the work. Interestingly, the tractors are monitored by specialised tech that enables location, conditions of operation, maintenance schedule, fuel consumption & routes to be monitored in real-time. Let’s come up with innovative businesses like that for the rural domain.

The Fast Follower Approach

Essentially, there is really nothing new under the sun. If you consider the Hello Tractor example, it was simply someone who fast followed the Uber concept. Strive Masiyiwa is provoking us to fast follow concepts already in existence and tailor them for the rural domain. For instance, drone technology has gotten so popular these days. Imagine coming up with a way to use to use drones in crop monitoring or even spraying for instance.

Reimagine The Value Chain

From seeds, fertilisers, mechanization, distribution, marketing etc – let’s not settle for the status quo. Basically when you come up with a huge idea or innovation that is “disruptive” i.e. that challenges tradition, people tend to talk it down. He is saying we must quiz “why not?” because in principle anything is possible. Think about storage & cold chain management, how best can we innovate for that in rural communities. From the farm to the fork, devise innovations that shall revolutionize the products, processes & the people.

Natural Resources Must Benefit Rural Communities

He highlights that tourism & conservation are at the core of most rural settlements if taken seriously. He cites an example of a Rwandan community that gets at least $10 million annually from tourists attracted to gorillas that are under a conservation scheme. That community gets 10% of all tourism proceeds that emanate from conserving those gorillas. The money is used to develop the community by building infrastructure & basic necessities. He urges that at least 10% of proceeds from tourism/natural resources must benefit the rural communities close-by; wealth funds can be setup to manage the money. Actually, tourism assets if properly harnessed can fuel other industries.

Funding For #ReImagine Rural

Strive has guaranteed a $100 million fund for rural entrepreneurs in Zimbabwe over 5 years. He indicated that 25% of that money shall to go to the Matabeleland regions. Women shall get at least 50% of the funds & he emphasized that young people shall be the key focus. He underscored that traditional businesses (like grinding mills) shall not be included but rather modern business models shall be prioritised. Loans will be at least $1500 & at most $10 000 at interest rates of at most 5% with no collateral. One will only be eligible if they undergo entrepreneurship training first. No political lobbying to access loans shall be tolerated. He also made calls on other philanthropists to chip in (so as to spread out the initiative across Africa).

R&D and Beneficiation

He gave an interesting allusion to George Washington Carver. George Carver dedicated his whole life to studying the peanut and he went to come up countless products from the peanut. Up to this day the possibilities of products that can be extracted from a peanut haven’t been exhausted. If we are to re-imagine rural we must adopt that approach for the many agricultural crops in existence. We must move away from our natural affinity to just sell our produce raw.

Digitization Of Land Registry & Sustainable Rural Housing

Let’s think about digitizing rural land ownership (registry) – this will be pivotal in collecting data crucial for economic planning. Sustainable rural housing is also an industry that needs serious attention. If properly engaged, the quest to build sustainable rural houses will greatly stimulate industries majoring in the manufacture of building materials. There is also need for an online network for Zimbabwe where rural businesses can register & then promote, share information, providing access to capital, skills training and R&D.

Almost 70% of food consumed globally is produced by small-scale farmers – let’s #ReImagineRural! Unemployment will remain an issue if we don’t #ReImagineRural. Africa currently imports in excess of $45 billion’s worth of agricultural products – thus we must #ReImagineRural!