HomeNewsBanana venture transforms villagers’ lives

Banana venture transforms villagers’ lives

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SMALL-SCALE banana farming in parts of Chipinge has proved to be a life-saver under extremely hot weather conditions.

Obey Manayiti

Previously thousands of hectares of irrigated land was lying idle in Chibuwe and Mutema areas.

The idea to start irrigation schemes in low-lying areas of Chipinge with crops such as wheat, beans, onions, tomatoes and maize was mooted long before the country’s independence.

The market was readily available too and horticulture has been a source of livelihood for many over the years.

However, in recent years the irrigation infrastructure in these parts of the country suffered a major knock from vandalism and ill-serviced equipment which was also heavily damaged by the destructive Cyclone Eline in 2000.

As a result, thousands of hectares of arable land was getting under-utilised with calls from farmers to get government assistance falling on deaf ears.

But of late, things have been improving since the introduction of the multi-currency system in 2009 and farmers have been able to put small pieces of land under irrigation.

Several aid partners have been willing to rescue thousands of struggling villagers with one such partner Matanuska, a giant export quality banana-producing company, introducing small-scale programmes with 100 hectares of banana farming in both Chibuwe and Mutema.

Matanuska is in partnership with the United States Aid for International Development’s Zimbabwe Agricultural Income and Employment Development (Zim-AIED) in this programme with a total of 438 beneficiaries reaping profits from the scheme.

“In the Mutema area, we have 60 hectors under banana irrigation scheme with 238 farmers on board,” explained Naume Mayakayaka, an Agritex supervisor in Mutema.

“The programme started off in 2012 and farmers have harvested three times now and on average they pocket $300 a month.
“We have two types of varieties which are Asdia and Sweet Williams which have a foreign ready foreign market in countries such as Zambia and South Africa.

“However, at first the farmers were hesitant to join the programme because they feared the loans, but after a series of meetings and demonstrations, they embraced it and now they are enjoying profits,” explained Mayakayaka.

Minister of State for Manicaland province Chris Mushohwe applauded the working relationship between the locals and Matanuska, saying more positive partnerships should yield from this scheme.

“A lot of programmes have been approved in this area and recently Vice-President Joice Mujuru endorsed your sugar cane plantation programme. I hope you are learning skills from such partnerships with Matanuska,” said Mushohwe.

“Matanuska came to my office in 2009 complaining that their banana plantations were being taken over and it was affecting their market. I asked them whether they were in a position to support the locals and I also tasked them to look for different places in Manicaland where they were going to partner locals.”

Mushohwe urged farmers to take banana farming as a fully-fledged business.

“I am happy that the locals are assuming ownership of the programme. I urge you to take this as a serious business and know that it is a not for free. Desist from giving people bananas for free because you will not go anywhere,” he said.

Matanuska project co-ordinator Johannes Makurumidze said the project has mutually beneficial to the company and the locals.
“The banana project has created a win-win situation for both the company and the locals here and we are expecting the produces to be the best in Africa as we aim to achieve 60 tonnes per hector under irrigation,” he said.

Makurumidze said farmers now have more disposable income and could now fund production of other crops such as sugar beans.
“Generally there has been an increase in economic activities in Mutema and Chibuwe,” he said.

“People are building houses and more children are going to school while transport business is thriving too. We are also happy that there is now increased food security in that farmers can buy and store food.”

Makurumidze added that other partners such as CABS Bank have also come aboard and are giving loans using the banana crops as security.

He said the project has managed to improve the irrigation in the area while also giving technical support and skills transfer to the villagers.

Makurumidze, however, bemoaned high rates charged by the Zimbabwe National Water Authority (Zinwa) and Zesa power utility saying it is not doing any good to the farmers.

Farmers told NewsDay that their lives were changing for the better because of banana farming. They said banana production was unlike sugar beans farming which is failing to attract a lucrative market for them.

“We used to struggle to pay school fees and uniforms for our children and there is a high rate of drop outs here in Mutema because we didn’t have money to finance schooling for children,” said one farmer Mathias Chijokwe.

“But now we are in a position to surpass that and even go a step further of building good houses and ablution facilities. We hope this project will spread to other nearby communities because we view ourselves as one family.”

He pleaded with the government to replace old and dilapidated water pumps in Mutema.

According to the extension officers, more women have shown interest in the project than men and according to their records more women are excelling than men.

Women farmers said banana farming has changed their lives.
Some said they managed to build houses, buy groceries and are managing to pay school fees for their children as well as venture into other income generating projects.

Egness Phiri said together with her elderly mother-in-law they were getting enough money to lead a decent life. They have since managed to transform their lifestyles from living in grass-thatched mud houses to brick houses under asbestos.

“We are staying in region five which has extremely hot temperatures, but instead of focusing on our poverty we got into banana farming and we have enough to eat, living a life of our own and sponsoring our children’s schooling and paying for medicals,” said Phiri.

Implementers of the project said farmers are now in a position to pay off their loans as well as servicing Zesa and Zinwa bills.

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