Sikhulekelani Moyo, Business Reporter
THE adoption of a cluster production system has helped integrate women-led small to medium enterprises (SMEs) in Matabeleland North province into the mainstream economy through enhanced capacity to export.
The country’s trade development and promotion agency, ZimTrade is co-ordinating the clusters, which are operating under art and craft where it works closely with SMEs producing for export.
Last week Business Chronicle joined ZimTrade which was visiting cluster projects in Tsholotsho and Lupane where producers showcased their work and expressed appreciation of ZimTrade’s efforts to assist them to tap into the export business.
One of the leaders for the Tsholotsho cluster, Mrs Maqhawe Moyo, said the ZimTrade initiative is helping to improve the women’s livelihoods as they are now able to access export markets.
She said before adoption of the cluster system, women’s produce was being sold through middlemen who used to exploit them by offering them low prices.
“The coming in of ZimTrade with the cluster initiative is a very good idea because women will now access export markets and cut off the middlemen who were exploiting them. The middlemen were offering as little as US$3 for a product which is sold for about US$30 on the export market” said Mrs Moyo.
She said women were forced to accept whatever price was offered because they didn’t have access to the export markets.
“What they needed was just income from the products hence they ended up selling their products for a song and in some cases had to engage barter trade where a basket was exchanged for a bucket of maize, packet of sugar or soap,” said Mrs Moyo.
To further assist rural producers, ZimTrade has conducted international market surveys which indicate that art and craft products could increase the country’s export earnings in a big way and Matabeleland North has high capacity in terms of weaving and basketry.
Lupane Women Development Trust (LWDT) director and interim chairperson of Matabeleland North Cluster, Mrs Hildegard Mufukare, said the coming in of ZimTrade has helped them improve quality of products after undergoing training.
“We urge ZimTrade to continue funding these training programmes meant to improve the quality of our products,” she said.
LWDT marketing manager, Mrs Khayelihle Sibanda, said out of 4 500 women who are engaged in different activities under the trust, 400 were into arts and crafts.
She said through the ZimTrade initiative they were hoping to see more women undergoing training in business management including financial literacy.
Mrs Sibanda said the establishment of the trust was meant to eliminate middle-men by connecting women directly to the markets.
ZimTrade southern region manager, Mrs Jacqueline Nyathi, said Matabeleland North cluster has five groups, which include Lupane, Tsholotsho, Binga, Hwange and Victoria Falls whose products have been exhibited at two different international trade fairs.
“I’m impressed with the quality of products, which the women are producing. The aim of the whole programme is to increase the capacity of women so that they to properly price their products to avoid being exploited,” she said.
Women in Matabeleland North use natural resources found in their areas to produce baskets and they also use recycled plastics.— @SikhulekelaniM1