Smart farming to fight El Nino

UNDP resident representative Ayodele Odusola told NewsDay Weekender that the programme targets mostly women and girls.

FORTY-EIGHT-year-old Joyce Chauke from Pikinini Jawanda in Mwenezi, Masvingo Province, looked happy after benefitting from the upcoming irrigation scheme in her rural area.

She has every reason to be hopeful in the solar-powered irrigation scheme propping food security against El Nino-induced drought and climate change in some of the country’s dry rural areas.

“Our region is generally dry. We rarely get a good harvest and it is even worse now that there is the most talked about El Nino,” Chauke said.

“We cannot wait to have our irrigation scheme functional so that we can start producing food for consumption and for sale.”

She is among the 3 356 farmers trained under the new irrigation infrastructure and climate-smart agriculture programme where 43 939 hectares were cultivated with climate-resilient products.

At least 69 670 farmers will benefit beyond irrigation schemes through agriculture training, seed multiplication and financial management.

This is part of the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) 21 solar-powered pivot-system irrigation schemes aimed at minimising the El Nino effects in Matabeleland South, Masvingo and Manicaland provinces.

UNDP resident representative Ayodele Odusola told NewsDay Weekender that the programme targets mostly women and girls.

“Of the current 1,1 million project beneficiaries, 67% are women, translating to 737 000 women while there is 12% for youths including girls,” Odusola said.

“The three schemes that have been completed have reached 310 hectares with the hope of reaching 764ha by the end of 2024.

‘‘By 2027 when the project ends, it would have benefited about 1,2 million women out of 2,3 million total beneficiaries.”

Odusola said the project interventions focus on job creation through irrigation schemes, internal savings and lending groups.

‘‘We hope that increased incomes will lead to children staying in schools. Also, women are a central focus of the project. Studies show that they [women] are more likely to support education for their children, thereby, keeping children in school,’’ he added.

Odusola said the savings and lending schemes have enabled women to access capital for procurement of inputs required for crop and livestock production.

‘‘The livelihoods training programmes including community gardens associated with the integrated irrigation service delivery system provides opportunities for out-of-school young people not willing to go back to school to have livelihood skills for productive engagements,’’ he explained.

Zimbabwe has experienced a sharp decline in agricultural production due to climate change, poor investment in the sector coupled with the economic implosion.

Odusola said UNDP sees irrigation as one of the most effective climate change adaptation measures for agriculture in societies where smallholder farming is primarily rain-fed.

“UNDP directly contributes to Zimbabwe’s blueprint, the National Development Strategy 1 through the priority food and nutrition security and cross-cutting issues that covers environmental protection, climate resilience and natural resource management.

‘‘This is in line with the new UNDP country programme strategy document (2022-26) outcomes that by 2026, all people in Zimbabwe, especially those most marginalised and vulnerable, will be increasingly resilient to shocks (such as climatic, economic, and health shocks) through sustainable natural resource management and sustainable food systems,’’ Odusola said.

UNDP irrigation expert, engineer Regis Chiwaya, also weighed saying irrigation schemes were a necessary intervention.

Approximately 70% of Zimbabwe’s population relies on subsistence rain-fed agriculture for food and nutrition security.

The 2023/24 farming season was affected by lack of rainfall, estimated by experts as ‘drier than average’ because of the El Nino effect.

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