Commercial Farmers' Union of Zimbabwe

Commercial Farmers' Union of Zimbabwe

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Irrigation transforms lives in southern Zimbabwe

Irrigation Transforms Lives in Southern Zimbabwe

Busani Bafana

GWANDA, Zimbabwe, Sep 13 (IPS) – More than a million people will need food
aid in Zimbabwe this year. As the government looks to boost agriculture
production, one rural community is leading the way by using irrigation
schemes to improve food security and income.

Tabiso Dube and her neighbours in Patana village grow food year round thanks
to an irrigation scheme.

Her home in Matabeleland South’s Gwanda district is among the least food and
water secure areas in the country. Given the arid climate, most people here
rely primarily on livestock for their livelihoods. The few who dare focus on
growing maize or wheat are extremely vulnerable to erratic rainfall.

But cattle farming has been hit hard by years of drought-induced losses;
many have been forced to slaughter animals for lack of grazing.

“Matabeleland is cattle country and it was a challenge to get many
communities to buy into irrigation farming as a means of livelihood,”
Velenjani Nkomo told IPS. “We have persisted and after 10 years, villagers
are growing vegetables, wheat and green maize, earning income and having
enough to eat.”

Nkomo is director of Pro Africa – a development organisation working to use
water as a pathway out of poverty. Over the past 10 years the NGO has
invested $1 million in building 48 gravity-fed irrigation schemes around 52
government-built dams in Matabeleland South, characterised by low annual
rainfall, droughts and food scarcity.

The irrigation schemes have been built with funding from international
donors, while local communities have provided labour and collected stones
and the sand used in the construction of canals. Communities are responsible
to maintain the infrastructure once it’s constructed, usually with money
they earn from the increased produce or have collected.

Dube, a smallholder farmer who still keeps a few goats, relied on food aid
for the last four years like many others in this water-stressed region of
Zimbabwe. Since Pro Africa built an irrigation scheme, Dube has not only
been able to feed her family, she has enough to give to extended family
members and needy neighbours.

“I do not worry about school fees anymore as our project has ensured I have
enough food for my children and extra cash for fees and for developing my
home,” said Dube, a mother of four.

The Madema irrigation scheme covers 8.8 hectares. Its 57 members are those
who responded when Pro Africa convened community meetings to introduce the
concept of irrigation in the area. The gravity-fed irrigation scheme has
helped Dube and her neighbours add an assortment of vegetables to their main
crops of wheat and maize, ensuring a more diverse diet and extra cash with
the sale of excess produce.

The dam that feeds Madema was built in response to the devastating drought
in 1992. The government responded by building 52 small dams in the two
Matabeleland provinces in collaboration with a consoritum of NGOs. The
earthen dams – many have since been reinforced with stone – however lacked
any additional infrastructure until Pro Africa stepped in to fill the gap.

“My wish is that we can double the size of the project to 16 hectares so
that we have more land to grow fruits and earn more money.”

Members are planning to stock the dam with fish and expand into cattle
fattening to further widen their income base.

While members would not give exact earning from produce sales on a monthly
basis, they are earning enough to be confident they can maintain their dam
and irrigation canals. The scheme’s members will soon spend the equivalent
of $640 to repair a leak in the dam wall following heavy rains last season.

While the schemes have enabled individual communities to become food
sufficient, access to wider markets – which would extend the benefits more
widely – remains a challenge. Most of the produce from the current total of
200 hectares under irrigation in Matabeleland South province is sold in the
immediate area: to neighbours, nearby schools and government institutions.

Zimbabwe’s second largest city, Bulawayo, is a beckoning market. But given
poor roads, lack of refrigeration and high fuel costs, transporting
perishable produce 250 kilometres is a logistical nightmare. Ironically,
most of Bulawayo’s fresh produce travels as much as 700 kilometres over much
better roads from farms in South Africa.

Zimbabwe is turning to range of measures in search of long-term solutions to
food security and poverty reduction. Improving farmers’ access to markets,
subsidised seeds and fertiliser and extending irrigation to reduce
dependence on rainfall each have their part to play.



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