Thupeyo Muleya–Beitbridge Bureau
At the turn of the new millennium, the Beitbridge District has been known to have a livestock production thriving environment.
The area has an estimated 200 000 cattle, 150 000 goats, 90 000 sheep and 40 000 donkeys.
Crop production, especially the horticulture sector remained at its lowest due to erratic rainfall patterns.
According to agriculture experts, Beitbridge requires an average of 400mm of rainwater for a successful farming season.
However, in the last decade, most areas in the district have been receiving 80mm.
Such a setup has seen more farmers, both small-scale and commercial focusing more on cattle ranching goats and sheep.
Climate change has altered seasons resulting in low rainfall totals especially in the southern region, which has crippled agriculture output.
Human activity such as greenhouse gases emission are some of the factors behind climate change.
The few farmers that have tried their hands-on horticulture often give up even those farming on community irrigation schemes.
Such a scenario resulted in Beitbridge residents importing vegetables from inland Zimbabwe of from South Africa, and this pushed the prices of horticulture-related products.
This is despite the fact that they have fertile soils with little water and times the water table dries fast.
In addition, some who tried horticulture gave up because horticulture requires water throughout the year, and in most instances, water is available during the summer cropping season.
In a quest to close the shortage of horticulture products some farmers in Beitbridge have turned to water harvesting and the use of drip irrigation.
This has seen farms like the Royal Cooper Estate, some 40km along the Beitbridge to Bulawayo road turning their 30 hectares into a greenbelt and being able to produce for the district and the regional market.
The farm manager, Mr Samuel Karonga said they started the project in 2016 and since then their market share was growing across the country
“We opted for the drip irrigation model since a micro-irrigation system that saves water and nutrients.
The model allows water to drip slowly to the roots of plants, either from above the soil surface or buried below the surface,” he said.
Mr Karonga said under this type of irrigation water is placed directly into the root zone of the plant to minimise evaporation.
This, he said is better than using canals, sprinklers, or flood irrigation to water crops.
He said currently they were drawing irrigation water from the Mazunga River, and the several boreholes at the farm, which are powered by diesel or electricity.
“We have built an aqua dam, which carries 5 755 300 litres of water drawn from Mazunga River and some six boreholes powered by generators.
“With such facilities and the use of drip irrigation, we are able to irrigate crops throughout the year,” said Mr Karonga.
He said they were producing cabbages, butternut, tomatoes, green pepper, watermelons, and green chilli among other vegetables.
Mr Karonga said they were also keeping 120 Bonsmara cattle breed and also carrying out fish farming in 70 metres by 50 metres man-made dam.
At the moment, they have 65 000 heads of cabbages at harvesting, 75000 heads at vegetative stages 36 000 tomatoes (HTX14 the tomato) planted on 1 hectare, onions on 1,5 hectares, watermelon on 2 hectares and green pepper on 2,8 hectares.
“We started off supplying the Beitbridge market, but now we have penetrated markets in Chegutu, Kadoma, Bulawayo, Gwanda, Mbare, Masvingo, Chiredzi and Gweru.
“As you can see, we have very fertile soils and we only need adequate irrigation water to increase production,” said Mr Karonga.
He said they had employed 45 people mainly the youth from surrounding villages.
The use of drip irrigation, he added, had also helped them control weeds since they started the project.
Mr Karonga said they were also working on a long term plan to draw irrigation water from Zhovhe Dam, which is located 15km away from their farm.
“We produce between 120 and 140 tonnes of tomatoes per hectare and our dream is to grow into a huge project to supply the whole southern region.”
In view of the effects of climate change, Mr Karonga said it was important for farmers in the district to embrace drip irrigation and maximise production with less labour.
“This is a seamless process in which you need to engage the right experts to set it up for you and you also need to harvest water or have constant supplies,” added Mr Karonga.