BY MUNYARADZI MADZOKERE
The United Nations arm, the Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO), on Thursday last week handed over a solar-powered, drip-fed Tuli-Lushongwe Irrigation Scheme to 51 Gwanda small-holder farmers to enable them to produce at least 100 tonnes of maize annually.
To alleviate water and fuel challenges faced by the farmers, FAO’s Smallholder Irrigation Programme (SIP) installed solar-powered boreholes, a 200 000-litre tank and a drip irrigation system between 2015 and 2016.
Speaking on behalf of FAO Southern Africa sub-regional coordinator, FAO Zimbabwe head of irrigation Brian Nhlema, said the new installations will ensure sustainability and viability of projects.
“A major emphasis for this project was ensuring sustainability through the reduction of energy costs, improvement of water use efficiency and ease of management. The installation of environmentally friendly solar pumping system has enhanced viability and profitability as farmers do not have to worry about prohibitive pumping costs,” he said.
“Fuel generators are now a thing of the past. Drip irrigation has helped reduce the labour burden of weeding and moving irrigation pipes, freeing women to other productive activities.
“Production is no longer at a subsistence level with the scheme now able to produce 100 tonnes of maize in summer and earnings of up to $1 400-$6 000 per hectare from horticultural production. In light of climatic changes characterised by frequent drought, the scheme has truly enabled the Tuli community to adapt to changing weather patterns and the recurrent droughts,” Nhlema added.
In addition, FAO has provided support to farmers including agronomic training and coaching, market linkages and small business management.
The 51 farmers at the scheme produce diverse crops, including maize, sugar beans, cabbages, tomatoes and potatoes throughout the year.
Besides increased production, the facility has also improved food security in surrounding communities.
The irrigation scheme, situated in natural region 5 where rainfall is erratic and rain-fed agriculture is unsustainable, was established in 2000 with support from an organisation called Women and Land in Zimbabwe and the government.