Irrigation scheme boon for smallholder farmers



SHRIVELLED crops and the overpowering stench of poverty are common features in most rural areas in Zimbabwe following inconsistent rains which ended prematurely, only to return and finish off the few plant that had survived.

Smallholder farmers in Zimbabwe who suffer from low incomes and poor living standards are the hardest hit and many will not be able to send their children to school.

Food security has become far-fetched for most of these hard working farmers, particularly in low rainfall areas where rain-fed agriculture is almost always a failure.

Recently Agriculture minister Joseph Made told Parliament grain production was low in the 2014-2015 season forcing the ministry to resort to the use of strategic reserves to move food to the rural areas.

The minister painted a grim picture when he said the country, which has a corn consumption of over 1,7 million metric tonnes annually, would need to buy more than 700 000 tonnes of the grain before the next harvest in March 2016.

In the face of such a calamity, alternative strategies like irrigation are now required to ensure the same will not persist in the next season.

Irrigation can boost agriculture as has been recognised since 1932 when the government set up the Mutema irrigation scheme in Manicaland.

Case studies of irrigation schemes have indicated that indeed it is a better alternative that can guarantee food security and in the long run improve incomes and living standards.

A study by the Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) of 10 irrigation schemes revealed that smallholder irrigation can be used as a key drought mitigation measure and as a vehicle for the long-term agricultural and macro-economic development of a country.

“Successful smallholder irrigation schemes can result in increased productivity, improved incomes and nutrition, employment creation, food security and drought relief savings for the government,” noted the study.

However, socio-economic evaluations of smallholder irrigation schemes are needed at regular intervals in order to be able to derive lessons from past experiences and also help decision-makers in formulating sound policies for future development.

In Lupane in a small village called Tshongokwe, villagers are reeling from years of drought spells and many have given up all hope of a better life. They have resigned to fate.

They line up along the main highway selling anything from sweets to pathetic-looking roasted mealie cobs.

The area is largely dry and most farmers will not harvest anything meaningful. Rolling plains of brown foliage and crops are signs of the devastation caused by the intermittent rainfall.

However, amidst such a bleak picture, a group of villagers are realising the benefits of a successful irrigation scheme.

Funded by the USAID and implemented through contract farming which was administered by the Zimbabwe Agricultural Income and Development Program (Zim-AIDE), the Tshongokwe irrigation scheme has transformed lives of the members.

The scheme involved growing of cabbages, butternut, maize, beans and also cattle rearing. There is a ready market for the good quality produce and the members are preparing to harvest in a few weeks.

Zim-AIED has assisted more than 140 000 rural households across the country, of which 50% are women, with training and technical assistance in good agricultural and business practices.

Skumbuzo Moyo is relieved that she can now send her children to school and put food on the table with a surplus to spend on other household needs.

“It is liberating to be able to fend for my family after years of toiling long hours in the fields, but getting little harvest,” she said with a bright smile on her face.

She is happy that the training that she has received since project inception in 2010 is bearing fruit and she now knows how to market her produce and compete favourably with other farmers.

Mervis Ncube from Ngombane village says access to credit financing had provided her with an opportunity to buy adequate farming inputs which ensure that her yield is meaningful.

“As farmers, especially women, we face challenges of inputs because many of us do not have access to resources,” she said.

The members of the Tshongokwe Irrigation scheme got direct lending packages from Quest Financial Services.

Head of lending services Donald Saruro said they did not ask for collateral from the farmers and worked with groups instead of individuals.

“The credit facility ensures that the farmers get the appropriate inputs which will guarantee a bumper harvest, of course, coupled with good farming methods,” he said.

Speaking during the closeout event for the Tshongokwe project last week, United States Ambassador to Zimbabwe Bruce Wharton said barriers to credit financing limited women’s production.

He said there was great potential in women and there was need to capacitate them to participate actively.

The community expressed their readiness to continue with the project on their own and is confident that the training that they received will sustain their scheme and open up more markets for their produce.