Fortious Nhambura Senior Features Writer
IT is a scorching October afternoon in Chisumbanje and farmers and their families are busy in their fields. They have to brave the heat if they are to succeed in their quest to feed their households and have surplus to sell. The farmers are either channelling water into their fields or pulling out weeds or harvesting maize.
They have to put up with the scorching heat to ensure that the water and land is put to good use.
What can you expect when they have just been thrown a lifeline?
They have been given irrigation plots and free use of water by Green Fuel under the Chisumbanje Irrigation Scheme.
“This is a dry area and when you get water you cannot waste time. We have learnt to endure the blistering heat because we have to make most of the water available,” says one plotholder who identifies himself only as Simon.
This is the new lease of life that has been brought about by the Chisumbanje Green Fuel ethanol project. A lush green belt has developed to the east of the commercial sugar plantation made up of crops like maize, sugar beans and vegetables among others.
Green Fuel general manager Mr Graeme Smith said in developing its project, the company has dedicated 10 percent of the irrigation infrastructure developments for the local community. Farmers are drawn from the neighbouring communities.
“They are allowed to grow crops of their choice on one-hectare plots availed to them by the company.
“Green Fuel is providing technical expertise to plotholders to ensure that farmers maximise land and water utilisation. It has also subcontracted 400 farmers under its outgrower scheme producing sugarcane on behalf of the company,” he said.
The outgrowers do not only get water but also seed and fertilisers for their crop that they then sell to the company. Among the beneficiaries are traditional leaders, war veterans, youths and the general populace.
One of the beneficiaries of the irrigation plots, Mrs Ketina Makanya, said they are happy to be part of the first batch beneficiaries in the irrigation project.
“The plots have changed our way of life. This is real empowerment and something we can rely on for a living.
“We can now produce our own food and surplus we sell in the community or to vendors from the cities. The area is blessed with fertile lands but little water water hence the importance of these irrigable plots.
“We can now produce three rotational crops per year which was unheard of in the area where we sometimes go for years without receiving a drop of rain.
“This is how special the irrigation project is. It has become our lifeline. Water is life and the provision of water to our field by Green Fuel has opened our world.
“I have managed to produce enough food for my family a well as the extended family. The plot has also ensured that neighbours can get food locally. Our greatest problem remains that of securing enough seed and fertilisers. We want to appeal to both Government authorities and Green Fuel to help us with inputs so that we can fully utilise the land,” she said.
In its peak capacity, Green Fuel intends to put 40 000 hectares under irrigation part of which will be given to the community. To date, only 10 000 hectares have been developed but already the effects of the project are being felt in the community.
Another farmer, Mr Clemence Matikwa, said the development of the irrigation scheme has enabled the people of the area to produce their own food and not to always look to Government for food handouts.
“It is most commendable that Green Fuel is already spreading benefits to the local people. This is our own form of Community Share Ownership Scheme. You know we do not have mines here and that is why we are grateful that the company is availing land for irrigation to us,” he said.
Energy and Power Development Minister Cde Dzikamai Mavhaire, who toured the Chisumbanje Ethanol Plant, last week commended the project as the best gift for the people of Chisumbanje, an area which lies in the low rainfall parts of the country.
He urged Green Fuel to quicken the opening of more land to irrigation so that more people can feel the benefits of the project.
“The company must expedite the construction of irrigation canals so that more land is put under irrigation so that more farmers can get plots to produce their own food. We have no time to waste over petty differences.
“While this is a national project the people of the area must benefit from it. Our people should get the land and start farming. This dovetails well with Zanu-PF’s indigenisation and empowerment programme.
“With the massive land we have here and the political will of the people of the area, I see no reason why we cannot succeed. We call on the local people to ensure that they buy into the project and get the benefits of the plant. I am pleased that there is an element of outgrowers here which promotes indigenisation of resources and empowerment of our people,” he said.
Cde Mavhaire, who is also Zanu-PF secretary for production and labour, said he would like people to get equitable benefits from the project.
He added that the same people should not benefit from both the outgrower schemes and the irrigation plots.
“We also want the villagers to start a cattle fattening programme using the residue from the plant,” he said.
Cde Mavhaire said people should spend most of their time in fields and not loafing around.
Chipinge South Member of Parliament Cde Enock Porusingazi said the political leadership in the area welcomed the investor and was pleased that he was already fulfilling promises made to the community.
“The most important thing is that the project has brought water near the people. We may have lots of water in Save River but it needs to be pumped to the people’s fields. That is what Green Fuel has done for us. Imagine having to pump water over 25 kilometres for people to irrigate their fields. The area rarely receives meaningful rains and the only source of lifeline is that river that has unfortunately been laying idle. As the project is going on we are seeing more land being availed for the people.
“People are growing beans, green mealies and vegetables for consumption and for sale. Had it not been the inclusive Government wrangles that threatened the project I am sure by now we should be somewhere,” he said.
Cde Porusingazi said other areas like Ngezi are proud of their platinum and Marange their diamonds. “We are proud of this project because it has given our people a direct benefit.
“The minor wrangles that you hear in the Press are obvious. Our people have something to benefit from their own God-given resources of Save River and flat and fertile land,” Cde Porusingazi said.
Councillor for the area Cde Busangabanye concurred saying the irrigation project had benefited a number of people from the surrounding communities who now can grow enough food and also realise some income.
“It’s a viable project. The area is very hot and someone may plough 40 hectares and get something equivalent to one hectare. As the project grows we hope to see more people getting these and reduce the incidence of poverty in the area. If the company is going to follow all it has promised then we are heading for good times.
“We are happy that the project has provided employment to our young people. Our children will be employed here while the older people work in their small plots to feed their families. The irrigation scheme as brought a new lease of life for the people of Chisumbanje area. We have kicked hunger out of the door.
“We even have trucks and traders coming from as far as Harare and Masvingo to buy green mealies for resale in their cities,” he said.
He said like in any project there are few dissenting voices but generally the project has the support of the community.
Cde Porusingazi said there was need to construct additional water reservoirs to ensure development of more irrigation schemes in the area is not thwarted.
“We need to do a lot of community irrigation projects. We are blessed with flat fertile land which is good for irrigation and we need to make use of these lands,” he said.
Cde Porusingazi said it was important to rehabilitate the existing irrigation schemes adding problems faced at some of the schemes like Nyanyadzi and Chibuwe were minor and could be easily ironed out for the benefit of the people.