Monday, 13 January 2014

What should be on a new Zim dollar note? Two nominations

There have been repeated rumours about the return of the Zimbabwe dollar, even ones that they were being printed. There was no hint in the recent budget, and for the time being Zimbabwe's economy is tied to the US dollar exchange rate, and it is the greenback (sometimes rather brown and dirty) that circulates through the economy.

But some time, when the time is right, a separate currency may be desirable, allowing more flexibility in monetary policy, and help ease the near permanent liquidity crisis. When that happens there will have to be a redesign of the notes. What should be on them? Of course there will be all sorts of 'national heroes' and famous places in contention, but what are the real symbols of the Zimbabwean economy today?

I want to nominate two candidates, both of which I believe should be recognised on a redesigned currency. The first is the one tonne truck. Most likely Chinese built, nearly always white, and full of people and produce, trailing the roads of Zimbabwe. I don't know if anyone keeps statistics of how many are manufactured and imported, but it must be a lot.

In the new resettlement areas where we work, they are ubiquitous. They have revolutionised the way farming as a business is done. Marketing is now possible in much more flexible ways. Supply of inputs doesn't have to rely on a NGO or a government delivery. Instead, private entrepreneurs, many of whom are farmers, hire out their trucks, or share deliveries with friends and neighbours. I thought there were lots of them in Masvingo, but it wasn't until I visited Mazowe district at the end of last year that I realised how many had been purchased on the back of the tobacco boom. So, nomination 1: the Chinese (sometimes Japanese) one tonne truck.

The second nomination is the small horsepower water pump, again very often Chinese made. They have become incredibly cheap in the last few years. US$200 or so will get you a pump that can deliver a steady flow of water to a garden from a well or river bed. They are not the most fancy, nor the hardiest of pumps, but they are cheap. A small profit on a garden enterprise can mean you can buy a new one – or a replacement if they break down. Again, no need to wait for an aid agency to come with a 'project' and corral you into a gardening group; instead you can just go to Harare or Bulawayo – or more likely Musina – and buy one (or even two) and do it yourself. No project, no group, no waiting for the NGO. As we have found out in our studies of small scale horticulture in the resettlement areas near Masvingo they too have revolutionised production possibilities, through irrigation, for even the poor, small-scale farmer.

These two pieces of kit, now standard issue for any aspiring farmer, along with the indestructible Nokia classic mobile phone (not on the nomination list as a bit passé now), are definitely my top nominations. They equal the contribution of any national hero in my view, and without government or donor support, they allow farms to be productive, output to be marketed, people to become that bit richer, kids to be sent to school, investment to happen. And none of this would have happened without them.

What are your nominations? Please add to the comments, and I will happily forward to the minister of finance, Mr Chinamasa.

This post was written by Ian Scoones and originally appeared on Zimbabweland