Lookout Munyaradzi Gotora had never imagined himself becoming a banker and an agro-dealer all folded into one.
Two years ago, as the economic malaise that had plagued Zimbabwe for over a decade continued to bite deeper, he was forced to wrap up his hardware business in Murehwa.
Then Feya Feya Wholesaling Company, with funding from Netherlands Development Organisation (SNV-Zimbabwe), partnered with him and others in using their formerly closed shops to be distribution points for agricultural inputs such as fertiliser to over 1 500 small-holder farmers in Ward 13 in Murehwa.
“We add a small mark up on the price so that we can earn a profit, which is just a small fee. Feya Feya provides the transport,” he said.
They usually earn a profit of between $1 and $2. While they buy a 50kg bag of fertiliser for $30, they re-sell it for $31.
According to Joel Mugariri, an official with Feya Feya, after they noted farmers needed some assistance, they negotiated with donors to provide some loans for the farmers around Murehwa, with special recommendations from the agro-dealer in Harare, who worked closely with farmers.
“He (Gotora) knows (productive) farmers that deserve support,” Mugariri said.
He added that since commercial banks in Harare did not know those farmers in such far-flung rural outposts, Feya Feya provided money to the agro-dealers to buy excess produce from the farmers.
“We are still working on the interest rate because we don’t want it to be more than 12%,” he said. “It shouldn’t be expensive for the farmers. But we buy their produce at market prices.”
Gotora said their most pressing problem was lack of viable markets, so farmers ended up selling their produce at low prices, making it difficult for some of them to break even.
“At the moment the inputs are expensive, so if you don’t have an established market you end up selling at below cost,” he said.
He added sales were also determined by seasons and the trend was such that during cultivation periods between October and December, they recorded brisk business, with December being the peak month.
He said they wanted support to sell other products so they would still be in business even beyond the agricultural season.
Gotora, who — like most people in the area — relies mainly on farming for a livelihood, said he invested most of his profits into his farming venture.
Together with other agro-dealers in the area, he said they received training in crafting business plans and how to make their businesses profitable.
“After that training,” he said, “I now know more about stock management. In the past, before closing down my shop in 2008, I didn’t know how to keep my books. There was no business and I didn’t have working capital.”
But this project became a catalyst through which about 250 shops that had been shut down in 2009 in different provinces of the country were re-stocked.
There was also a venture with CABS, which provided a float of $800 and a point-of-sale machine to allow peasant farmers in the area to deposit and withdraw cash.
Gotora said CABS provided them with the withdrawal and deposit slips used for transactions.
At the end of each day, all the deposits and used slips would be taken to the building society.
SNV-Zimbabwe’s strategy is aligned to the national economic development priority plan and Millennium Development Goals and seeks to impact on delivery of basic services through access to basic education and economic development through production, income and employment.
SNV-Zimbabwe country director Lawrence Attipoe said the programme, if rolled out in all parts of the country, was likely to become critical in Zimbabwe’s economic restoration.
He said people like Gotora who were now bankers, “could play an important role in the restoration of the economy. The more you have, the quicker the economic regeneration”.