Thursday, July 08, 2010

(HERALD) Irrigation key for Zim’s agric

Irrigation key for Zim’s agric
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.

The frequent droughts coupled with a decline in rainfall quality in the country 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 and Mechanisation Minister Joseph Made.

In light of this, the inter-ministerial committee needs to stress the importance of 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 is most ideal in the country that in past has either 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 hectarage under crop.

Although the target areas for the committee remain the low rainfall areas, the programme should also be extended to focus on high rainfall areas so that a greater part of the country’s agricultural land can be used all year round and hence increase productivity.

Drip irrigation technology is in wide use in countries like the 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 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 is reduced movement on the farm and also 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 the local people who will not only work in the project but also benefits from the output.

The 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 Tel-One public booths and City of Harare bus shelters in the late 90s.

Since then, Tel-One 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 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 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 chips in with funding.

The percentages would be negotiated to ensure the country does not lose out. The projects can be modelled along the lines of the ethanol-sugarcane plantation being developed in Chisumbanje and Middle Sabi, a joint venture between the Agriculture 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 millions of gallons of fresh water into the sea when the country is battling to water its crops and improve productivity.

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

Presenting a paper at the workshop on environment recently, Mrs Juliet Gwenzi of the Meteorological Services Department said although Zimbabwe has been receiving normal rainfall amounts over the years, these 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 farmers 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 to maintain good crops.

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 fields at the appropriate time.

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

l fortious.nhambura ***

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