To what extent can the growth center policy improve rural livelihood? Essay

To what extent can the growth center policy improve rural livelihood?


Growth Center Policy has failed to promote rural industrialisation in developing countries because of a number of underlying factors such as failure of strategic positioning of growth points, lack of massive financial support and infrastructural development, siphoning of funds by the elites in the government meant for industrialisation into personal coffers, lack of consultation of rural people to participate in the process as well as lack of incentives to encourage the private sector to expand and open up branches in rural areas. This has resulted in designated growth points becoming white elephants with no meaning full industrial sector to talk about serve for beer halls, little grocery stores and grinding mills. Growth points were introduced in an attempt to arrest the age-old dilemma of rural to urban migration affecting developing countries (Birds and Shepherd, 2003).

Wedged in the middle of purely communal lands, the quasi-urban set ups experienced phenomenal growth soon after the country’s 1980 independence, but they are now battling to remain relevant. To all intents and purposes, the growth points have failed to reduce pressures on the country’s major towns and cities due to their thin economic bases which are getting leaner on the back of inadequate central government funding, poor planning and a badly performing economy.The failure by the growth points to plug migration into large cities has resulted in the capital city, Harare, experiencing swift growth (Dzvimbo et al., 2017).

The population in urban areas increased from an estimated 3,695 million in 2002 to 4,104 million in 2012, a factor that is straining key infrastructure such as water reticulation systems and road networks. These challenges continue to increase despite policies crafted by theGovernment during the late 1980s to discourage rural to urban migration by establishing growth points as centres of rural development (Dzvimbo et al., 2017).
The policy sought to reduce the numbers of people moving from rural areas to cities and towns in search of better living conditions and employment. According to Scoones (1999), growth points were meant to develop into towns, complete with their own industries and housing estates. Their purpose was to provide employment in rural areas and improve the local economy, without forcing people to migrate to large cities and towns to find work.

Growth points (GPs) are centres of economic activity which are artificially created for stimulated growth, through industries that will trigger a chain of reaction of production and promotion of associated services with the ultimate goal of improving quality life of the periphery surrounding that particular growth point (Scoones, 2009). Growth Point (GPs) also denotes settlements which are earmarked or designed for economic and physical development (Birds and Shepherd, 2003).

Growth points are centres of economic potential which were created to catalyse development in previously underdeveloped regions (Mutopo, 2014). Mutopo is of the opinion that natural resources have the potential to initiate development by attracting foreign investors into that particular region. Growth and development were expected to start at the pole and then trickle down to the peripheral rural areas fostering the decentralisation of economic activities and commercial services. The Growth Point strategy has been used considerably in regional development planning to deal with the problem of unequal development or what is known as dualism, where one region is unfairly promoted to develop at the expense of another area. The growth centre strategy was mainly implemented to reduce inequalities between growth points and disadvantaged regions (Scoones, 1998).

“The concept of growth points was mooted by the Zimbabwean government in the 1980s as a means to decongest cities and towns. This was done mainly to curb the rural-to-urban migration through employment creation and the availing of basic services to people in rural areas. Almost three decades later, most of the growth points are undeveloped with beer outlets being the most lucrative businesses,” (Bird and Shepherd, 2003).

Dzvimbo et al (2017) articulates that the future economic development prospects of Zimbabwe’s growth points are closely linked to the overall regeneration of the productive capacity of communal lands in the respective districts. As a starting point, considering the fact that growth point policy is a long forgotten initiative, it is suggested that the Government should undertake a major evaluation exercise of all the rural growth points in order to be able to formulate revival strategies based on current resource inventories. With indications Zimbabwe’s population is increasing in rural areas, the future of most growth points lies increasingly in the solutions put forward for utilisation of local natural resources through application of comparative advantage and the agrarian productive elements of the communal sector (Birds and Shepherd, 2003).

If those having land are given Government support in terms of subsidies and training, then growth points will prosper as marketing and production outlets. For those districts where agriculture performs well or is likely to thrive if enough support is given to farmers, establishment of seed grading and packing industries will be an appropriate move. The advantages of such an industry include an existing demand among all communal farmers for a variety of types of seed for their farming operations (Scoones, 2009).

For example, fruit and vegetable processing industries can be opted for in eastern districts of the country where there is large-scale organised fruit farming. The area also has a high agro-ecological potential, high rainfall and rich soils. Moreover, in areas where there is high production of oil seeds such as groundnuts, sunflowers and others, there is a possibility of developing small-oil processing plants which require a guarantee of inputs from producers (Mutopo, 2014).

In places like Beitbridge which is in Matabeleland South where there is pronounced beef production, construction of abattoirs and associated industries can be the best strategy of spearheading economic development. Also, this will have to take advantage of the proximate distance to the neighbouring South Africa where some of the beef can be exported. Agro-based industries including food processing industries and cotton processing may be suitable for growth points such as Gokwe. Growth points in rural areas such as Nyika, Jerera and Mataga, where maize is intensively grown, may, for example, be suitable for establishment of agro-based industries. The saw-milling and furniture industries could flourish at growth points such as Tsholotsho in Matabeleland North and Nyanga in the Eastern Highlands where there is a lot of timber available (Dzvimbo et al., 2017).

Since the attainment of independence in 1980, the government of Zimbabwe has embarked on a national programme to restructure the inherited colonial economy, and a major thrust has been directed towards the development of rural communal lands. One of the key policy initiatives has been the development of rural settlement infrastructure in designated district and rural service centres. As stated in the Transitional National Development Plan :

‘Existing discrepancies in the ordering of urban settlements will be corrected by balanced investment in growth and rural service centres. The intention is to bring the rural population into close contact with services and markets, thus forging linkages with the national economy and stimulating the development of local markets with regional specialisation and a multitude of informal employment opportunities’ (Dzvimbo et al., 2017)). The policy intention is therefore to restructure the nature of the settlement hierarchy with a focus on the rural economy. The settlement hierarchy inherited at independence reflected the polarisation in the economy with, on one hand towns and cities linked to the European sector of the economy, and small business centres linked to the African peasant sector. Whilst the former generated the large bulk of the formal employment and attracted all major investments, the latter can be characterised simply as ‘corner shops’ providing a convenience service to the rural farmers. It is this dichotomy that post-independence settlement policy sought to address.

A growth point is a centre with an identifiable resource base capable of stimulating specific production and marketing activities, and whose exploitation leads to rapid and sustained growth with development. Some of its characteristics are: – the existence of a proven economic base which, through the utilisation of local raw materials, is capable of sustaining growth; – the high potential for the development of substantial forward and backward linkages with the adjoining hinterlands through the process of vertical and horizontal integration ; – the ability of the centre to facilitate the process of industrial decentralisation by providing alternative but viable investment opportunities (Scoones, 2009).

These basic policy definitions reflect a desire to improve service delivery capacity and a desire to generate productive investment in the rural economy. The attempt to classify centres, although fairly clear and straightforward in theory, is complicated in practice. Most centres being classified provide a similar range of functions, and therefore political and administrative criteria prevail in most designations. There is also a general terminological confusion, both in the literature and in practice, about ‘growth points’, ‘growth centres’ and ‘service centres’.

Particularly the use of the term ‘growth’ has been exceedingly seductive and creates high expectations. The tendency at local levels has therefore been to characterise even the smallest centres as ‘growth points’. Moseley (1974) pointed to the nebulous character of the growth centre theory, which has led to both its widespread adoption in regional planning and differences in interpretation in types of policies and centres. Such a confusion exists in Zimbabwe, as in many developing countries. The main objective of this article is to analyse the growth centre policy in Zimbabwe and the implementation process since 1981/82 (Birds and Shepherd, 2003). The focus is on district centres, of which have been designated in line with the post independence local government reorganisation. These centres have also become de-facto ‘growth’ points as a result of their close link to the evolution of the local government system and also by the way the public sector investment programme has been focussed on them. Preliminary results of a survey conducted in 1985 are presented, examining the process of centre designation and development of social and physical infrastructure. An analysis is also made of the policy framework, highlighting some pitfalls particularly relating to promotion of productive investment in the centres.

Since the 1950s growth centre planning has emerged as one of the key features of regional development planning in developed and developing nations (Dzvimbo et al., 2017). Initially linked to industrial development and economic growth, policy has shifted towards providing social and physical infrastructure services in centres. In most countries it is now a common feature to find a mixture of objectives which include :

  • a desire to strengthen the settlement hierarchy to promote balanced and equitable development; promoting physical and social infrastructure development, particularly in rural areas ;
  • strengthening generation of diversified productive employment with linkages to the rural economy
  • improving efficiency and delivery of services within a decentralised planning framework. Such objectives encompass a whole range of development issues, which are not always compatible and need not be solved through a growth centre policy. Indeed many countries in Africa and Latin America have abandoned growth centre policies on the grounds that they have failed to achieve meaningful results.


The colonialera – The concept of growth centres in rural areas became an issue in terms of development in the 1960s. Before then, the main focus was on the development of the settlement hierarchy within the ‘European’ commercial sector. An urban system had evolved providing the foci for industrial development, commerce, mining and other service activity. Up to the 1930s the foci of settlement development was along the railroads and included the main centres of Harare, Bulawayo, Gweru, Masvingo and Mutare. These were linked by rail, telegraph, electricity grid, and roads, and they served the commercial sector of the economy. Other towns developed on the basis of mining activity or by providing agricultural and administrative services to farmers. By the 1960s there were vivid signs of underdevelopment in the tribal trust lands (currently communal areas) which were largely agriculture-oriented (Dzvimbo et al., 2017).

with the potential to grow into a town and eventually into a city. Manyanhaire et al (2009) observe that “In Zimbabwe, the concept of growth poles, or growth points, was actually introduced before independence as part of a policy document called ‘Integrated Plan for Rural Development,’ that was introduced in 1978.” Mawere et al (2012) concur with this observation. However, it is interesting to note that although the growth point concept has its origins in the colonial era, it was popularised soon after independence in 1980. Dzvimbo et al (2017) observe that the term ‘growth points’ acquired an aura of magic after the attainment of independence, especially in the rural areas

The most fundamental change at independence was the democratisation of the political system, which removed a system of institutionalized racial discrimination and shifted political power from the minority European settlers to the African majority. This brought the formerly neglected tribal trust lands (communal lands) to the centre of the stage (Dzvimbo et al., 2017).

The growth centre policy was to be tailored to serve the new socio-economic requirements – to propel overall development of communal lands through provision of physical, social and economic services. In a policy document published by the Ministry of Local Government and Town Planning (1981) the objectives of the programme for the development of rural service centres were outlined. It was argued that most centres to be developed would be district centres which would serve as administrative headquarters of district council areas. This was in line with the programme of local government restructuring. The programme would also aim to create more economically productive employment and income-generating activities for the poor. Non-farm activities were expected to increase in rural areas as infrastructure improved and markets expanded. Physical infrastructure development would focus on roads, markets, bus terminals, commercial and other industrial activities. On the question of ‘growth points’ it was argued that, although all of the designated centres (rural service centres, district centres, etc.) may be perceived as points of some degree of growth and development, the term ‘growth point’ should be reserved for sites with an existing economic base, usually agriculture or mining. Such points were envisaged to grow into towns and they would offer alternative investment opportunities.

The implication of the definition of ‘growth points’ was that in reality those centres which qualified were those earlier selected in the pre-independence era (TILCOR) which were linked to agricultural estates. This also included some centres which were proclaimed as townships, usually located outside the main towns, to house the African labour force; e.g. Zimunya near Mutare; Ntabazinduna near Bulawayo; and Chitungwiza near Harare.

The Zimbabwean government mooted the concept of growth points in the 1980s as a means of decongesting cities and towns. This was done mainly to curb the rural-to-urban migration through employment creation and the availing of basic services to people in rural areas, but almost three decades later, most growth points are now like ghost towns with most businesses still kicking being beer outlets.

A key objective of rural growth center investment is to raise the economic status of the rural poor through increased income and improved consumption patterns (which can be demonstrated in lower costs for basic goods, lower expenditure on energy due to use of new energy sources, greater use of social services, etc.). On one hand, the unfortunate reality is that the evidence supports greater benefit of rural investments to the non-poor, whereas the poor benefit disproportionately or (in some cases) not at all. There can be disparity in benefit across socio-economic groups, across villages or regions, or within a village. On the other hand, cognizance of this reality has led to changes in project design with greater attention to effective targeting of the poor (e.g. through revised subsidy schemes for rural electrification).

Scoones (2009) states that In Morocco, benefits from rural road improvements were found in the areas of health, education, and gender, as well as improved mobility due to increased public transportation services and greater household purchases of motorized means of transportation in comparison to control areas.



Scoones, I., 1998. Sustainable rural livelihoods: a framework for analysis.

Bird, K. and Shepherd, A., 2003. Livelihoods and chronic poverty in semi-arid Zimbabwe. World Development31(3), pp.591-610.

Scoones, I., 2009. Livelihoods perspectives and rural development. The Journal of Peasant Studies36(1), pp.171-196.

Dzvimbo, M.A., Monga, M. and Mashizha, T.M., 2017. The link between rural institutions and rural development: Reflections on smallholder farmers and donors in Zimbabwe. Journal of Humanities and Social Science22(6), pp.46-53.

Mutopo, P., 2014. Women, mobility and rural livelihoods in Zimbabwe: experiences of fast track land reform. Brill.

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