Ir­ri­ga­tion’s dis­tress call

. . . Zim needs $430m for schemes re­pair

The Herald (Zimbabwe) - - Feature - Sife­lani Tsiko Syn­di­ca­tion Writer — Zim­pa­pers Syn­di­ca­tion.

Years of ne­glect led to van­dal­ism and theft of key ir­ri­ga­tion in­fra­struc­ture. Peo­ple van­dalised pipes and wa­ter pump en­gines, agri­cul­tural im­ple­ments and other equip­ment

ZIM­BABWE needs about $427,5 mil­lion for the re­ha­bil­i­ta­tion of 57 000 hectares at non-func­tional ir­ri­ga­tion schemes which are in a de­plorable state af­ter years of ne­glect, van­dal­ism and poor main­te­nance, a se­nior Govern­ment of­fi­cial says.

Dr Con­rad Zawe, a di­rec­tor in the Min­istry of Agri­cul­ture, Mech­a­ni­sa­tion and Ir­ri­ga­tion Devel­op­ment, told Zim­pa­pers Syn­di­ca­tion re­cently at Jalukange Ir­ri­ga­tion Scheme in Beit­bridge West con­stituency that the coun­try needed fund­ing to re­ha­bil­i­tate 57 000ha to en­sure food se­cu­rity and in­crease pro­duc­tiv­ity.

“As a coun­try we have man­aged to re­ha­bil­i­tate 206 000ha of our land de­vel­oped for ir­ri­ga­tion, but what is not func­tional is about 57 000ha,” he said.

“It costs about $7 500 per hectare. It’s a huge amount, but this is what we need at least to har­ness the re­main­ing 57 000ha which is non func­tional.”

The to­tal de­vel­oped ir­ri­gated area in 2000 was es­ti­mated at 200 000 hectares, ac­count­ing for 80 per­cent of na­tional wa­ter de­mand.

Cur­rently 206 000 hectares of the de­vel­oped 263 000ha is func­tional.

Ac­cord­ing to the Min­istry of En­vi­ron­ment, Wa­ter and Cli­mate, a fully func­tional ir­ri­gated agri­cul­ture sec­tor has the ca­pac­ity to con­sume 82 per­cent of the coun­try’s wa­ter re­sources.

Wa­ter us­age by the sec­tor is cur­rently es­ti­mated at 20 per­cent in most catch­ment ar­eas ex­cept, Runde and Save catch­ments. These catch­ments are cur­rently dom­i­nated by the sugar in­dus­try.

Dr Zawe said that though ir­ri­ga­tion could as­sist to with­stand drought and food in­se­cu­rity due to cli­mate change and re­lated dis­as­ters, the devel­op­ment of ir­ri­ga­tion has be­come the prom­i­nent pol­icy di­rec­tion of the Govern­ment.

“We want to im­prove our coun­try’s food se­cu­rity po­si­tion through im­proved yields,” he said.

“For the long term, Zim­babwe is tar­get­ing to de­velop 2,5 mil­lion hectares for ir­ri­ga­tion devel­op­ment and for this we need no less than $10 bil­lion.”

He said the Govern­ment has been work­ing on ir­ri­ga­tion ag­gres­sively and was sup­port­ing the re­vival of most small­holder ir­ri­ga­tion schemes to im­prove food and nu­tri­tion se­cu­rity in drought-prone dis­tricts in the coun­try.

“We want to im­prove crop yields and we are tar­get­ing not less than 7 000 tonnes of yields per hectare,” Dr Zawe said.

“We want to fight hunger and poverty es­pe­cially in drought prone parts of Zim­babwe. Zim-As­set is the guid­ing prin­ci­ple for ir­ri­ga­tion devel­op­ment. Un­der this blue­print, the coun­try is tar­get­ing to put 2,5 mil­lion ha un­der ir­ri­ga­tion.”

He said he was de­lighted by the progress that had been reg­is­tered in the re­ha­bil­i­ta­tion of ir­ri­ga­tion schemes in Mata­bele­land South, Man­i­ca­land and Masvingo prov­inces.

“The progress we have made so far is im­pres­sive,” the ir­ri­ga­tion di­rec­tor said.

“The drought has been se­vere and we want our farm­ers to grow their own food and re­duce de­pen­dency on aid. At present food dis­tri­bu­tion is on-go­ing and we are happy that peo­ple have ac­cess to grain.

“The pro­gramme to re­ha­bil­i­tate our ir­ri­ga­tion schemes has been slow, but it is now pick­ing up. We are mov­ing faster than be­fore and we are be­gin­ning to see re­sults.”

The Govern­ment agrees that the util­i­sa­tion of wa­ter for ir­ri­ga­tion by the agri­cul­ture sec­tor is still below ca­pac­ity and needs to be ur­gently re­vi­talised.

Stud­ies in­di­cate that in 1980, Zim­babwe had about 150 000 hectares un­der “for­mal” ir­ri­ga­tion schemes, about three per­cent of the arable area.

About 68 per­cent of this was in the large-scale com­mer­cial farm­ing ar­eas, an­other 20 per­cent linked to com­mer­cial es­tates, seven per­cent part of ARDA es­tates and out­grower schemes and only 3,4 per­cent small­holder ir­ri­ga­tion schemes.

Ex­perts say the dis­tri­bu­tion of ir­ri­ga­tion ca­pac­ity was even more un­equal than that of land and other re­sources.

Over the years, Govern­ment in­vested sig­nif­i­cantly in small­holder ir­ri­ga­tion schemes to ad­dress this anomaly.

Through ir­ri­ga­tion in­fra­struc­ture devel­op­ment with the sup­port of in­ter­na­tional part­ners, the Govern­ment also sought to tackle prob­lems fac­ing small­holder farm­ers such as low in­comes and liv­ing stan­dards, poor nu­tri­tion, hous­ing and health and ed­u­ca­tion.

The ma­jor thrust was to sup­port vul­ner­a­ble com­mu­ni­ties par­tic­u­larly in low rain­fall ar­eas, where rain-fed agri­cul­ture is al­most al­ways a fail­ure.

In the years that fol­lowed, there were nu­mer­ous prob­lems that af­fected the devel­op­ment of small­holder ir­ri­ga­tion schemes.

Years of ne­glect led to van­dal­ism and theft of key ir­ri­ga­tion in­fra­struc­ture. Peo­ple van­dalised pipes and wa­ter pump en­gines, agri­cul­tural im­ple­ments and other equip­ment.

Apart from this, the re­ha­bil­i­ta­tion of ir­ri­ga­tion schemes also has to con­tend with poor soil fer­til­ity, lack of proper knowl­edge on util­is­ing wa­ter for ir­ri­ga­tion, poor canal in­fra­struc­ture which of­ten led to the en­trance of ex­ces­sive wa­ter into fields erod­ing the soil.

This also ex­posed min­er­als which could wipe out or re­duce crop yields.

De­spite these chal­lenges, re­newed in­ter­est and giv­ing prime at­ten­tion to ir­ri­ga­tion by the Govern­ment has largely stemmed from cli­mate change re­lated risk and their im­pact on the liveli­hoods of the poor.

Ir­ri­ga­tion farm­ing is vi­tal, es­pe­cially in dry re­gions where there are more failed crops. This calls for greater sup­port for the lo­cal com­mu­nity’s liveli­hood.

Part­ner­ships with in­ter­na­tional agen­cies have helped to re­vive the ir­ri­ga­tion schemes at a time when the fis­cus is hard­pressed.

The United Na­tions Food and Agri­cul­ture Or­gan­i­sa­tion (FAO) in part­ner­ship with the Min­istry of Agri­cul­ture, Mech­a­ni­sa­tion and Ir­ri­ga­tion Devel­op­ment have re­ha­bil­i­tated the Jalukange ir­ri­ga­tion scheme af­ter years of ne­glect.

The FAO re­ha­bil­i­tated 45 hectares of the Jalukange Ir­ri­ga­tion Scheme with new canals, drilled six new bore­holes and con­structed six la­trines.

This has brought new hope for farm­ers at the scheme. But agri­cul­tural ex­perts say, while ir­ri­ga­tion has been touted as a so­lu­tion to the hunger and poverty fac­ing the ma­jor­ity of the peo­ple, it is not a panacea on its own.

They say, in ad­di­tion to the bat­tery of mea­sures that have been adopted to ad­dress hunger and poverty in the coun­try, there is need to im­prove farm­ers’ ac­cess to mar­kets, sub­sidised seeds and fer­tiliser to im­prove liveli­hoods and crop yields.

Vi­brant ir­ri­ga­tion schemes will im­prove sus­tain­able food se­cu­rity

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