Thursday, July 08, 2010

(HERALD) Drip irrigation: Wise alternative

Drip irrigation: Wise alternative
By Fortious Nhambura

Government recently set up an inter-ministerial committee to lead the rehabilitation of irrigation schemes around the country as moves to increase agricultural production in drought-prone areas intensify.

The move, though welcome, also compels central Government and the ministry responsible to introduce water and energy saving forms of irrigation agriculture in Zimbabwe that is now at the mercy of increased droughts.

Frequent droughts, coupled with a decline in rainfall quality, have seen farmers failing to realise a meaningful harvest. This has often resulted in failed crops as prolonged dry spells have often choked the crops.

"This country has great potential because there is water all over. There is good land near all water bodies and once cheap and affordable irrigation projects are put in place, no one in southern Africa can beat Zimbabwe,’’ says Agriculture, Mechanisation and Irrigation Development Minister Joseph Made.

In light of this, the inter-ministerial committee needs to stress the importance of the water and energy-saving in irrigation schemes, two areas that are critical in the development of such projects.

That is why drip irrigation should be the answer to the country’s agriculture and experts say it is most ideal in the country that in past has relied on flood irrigation.

Agriculture experts say the committee to be chaired by Minister Made should come up with clear measures to rehabilitate irrigation as well as develop new drip irrigation schemes.

Minister Made says engineers have already started implementing the programme that is likely to reduce the amount of water and energy used in the irrigation process.

Zimbabwe has relied on flood irrigation that has seen lots of water being lost, a situation that is no longer feasible for a country aiming at increasing the total hectrage under crop.

Although the target areas for the committee remain the low rainfall areas, the programme should also be extended to high rainfall areas to increase productivity.

Drip irrigation technology is in wide use in such countries as Indonesia, China, Brazil, Iran, Egypt and India and is supporting the bulk of those countries’ agriculture.

Fortunately, these countries have also expressed their willingness to assist and its important that the Government and the farming sector take the opportunity to learn from the experts.

An expert in greenhouses and irrigation Mr Evans Zinenga said drip irrigation was critical in that it reduced movement on the farm and encourages pest control.

He said low pest and disease outbreak was vital for farmers if they were to reduce expenditure in crop production.

Irrigation experts say what is needed now are not just ministerial committees, but functional Government structures leading teams that will spearhead intensive investment and development of Zimbabwe irrigation potential.

As the committee moves to implement its findings and develop irrigation and particularly drip irrigation, there is need for increased advocacy by the ministry and its arms to ensure the project receives widespread acceptance.

Acceptance would result in buy-in by local communities and beneficiaries.

A buy-in by local people who will not only work in the project, but also benefit from the output.

Local people who are beneficiaries would ensure security for the infrastructure, resulting in long life for the projects.

Without knowledge, the project is likely to suffer the same fate to what most public infrastructure suffered during the harsh economic years (1998-2007) because people did not feel that the infrastructure was theirs.

When the economy hit rock bottom, most people descended on the public infrastructure, stripping it to sell and earn a few dollars to survive.

This lack of ownership has been disastrous before and has resulted in the destruction of critical infrastructure such as TelOne public booths and City of Harare bus shelters in the late 90s.

Since then, TelOne and Harare have struggled to replace the public phones and overhead lines to most parts of the country.

Only when people know the value of the project and are beneficiaries are they prepared to ensure that it is secure.

It should thus be borne in the minds of the people and the beneficiaries that once established, the schemes should generate money to maintain themselves and not wait for central Government.

A look at the various schemes that were developed by the Government at independence paints a gloomy picture of the schemes.

Years of neglect and mismanagement have seen some of the once vibrant schemes gradually turn into pale shadows of themselves.

This is because the beneficiaries did not invest to correct the wear and tear of years of exploitation on the schemes.

There is need for clear statement on who has what responsibility to guarantee success of the irrigation schemes.

Experience has shown that because farmers are not schooled enough, they have milked and milked the schemes and forgot to feed the cow to ensure a continuous flow of the milk.

And eventually the schemes collapsed.

As the Government moves to resuscitate irrigation schemes, there is need for private public sector partnership to ensure sustained funding for the projects.

Under the partnership agreements, Government, which at the moment is struggling to raise development funds, would provide the land and security while the private sector comes in with funding.

The percentage would be negotiated to ensure the country does not lose out.

The projects can be built in the model of the ethanol-sugarcane plantation being developed in Chisumbanje and Middle Sabi, a joint venture between the Agricultural and Rural Development Authority and Rating Investment Ltd and Macdom Investments Ltd.

According to the Zimbabwe National Water Authority, Zimbabwe’s major rivers are throwing away million of gallons of fresh water to the sea when it is battling to water its crops and improve productivity.

Frequent droughts and floods experienced in the country recently have also increased need not only to harness the water but also use it economically.

Presenting a paper at a workshop on environment recently, Mrs Juliet Gwenzi of the Meteorological Department said although Zimbabwe has been receiving normal rainfall amounts over the years, the rains have not been evenly spread over the summer period.

"The changing climates have made it difficult for farmers to rely solely on the rain-fed agriculture. Sometimes the rains are not useful to the crops and farmer as all may fall in just a month leading to long dry spells.

"This means that the majority of the rains that the country has been receiving have not helped farmers who have to grapple with moisture stress," she said.

Extended periods of dry spells sometimes going to more than a month require controlled irrigation if farmers are to maintain good crop.

Most of Zimbabwe’s agricultural land is made up of flat lying areas, making it difficult for farmers to rely on gradient to channel water to fields.

This means adequate power is needed to enable the movement of water from reservoirs to the field at the appropriate time.

Zimbabwe should thus intensify small power generation projects, particularly on farms and estate to augment power needs for irrigation.

fortious.nhambura ***

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