Irrigation’s distress call
. . . Zim needs $430m for schemes repair
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