Zimbabwe has for a few decades experienced a series of droughts that have compromised the performance of agriculture as the economy’s mainstay. Prior to the introduction of Command Agriculture last year, the sector was posting modest growth at best and huge losses at worst as it succumbed to the successive droughts.
Crop yields and cultivated hectarage had significantly gone down, with only a few sub-sectors managing to withstand the vagaries of inadequate water supplies. But this story can change if the country adopts strategies to introduce vibrant irrigation systems and water harvesting models to alleviate if not obliterate the effects of climate change.
Reliance on rain-fed agriculture has become unsustainable and can be self-defeating. The earlier we address this, the better.
President Mnangagwa has declared the country’s economic turnaround will be underpinned by agriculture and mining. However, it will be through a solid irrigation system that the agriculture sector’s full potential can be realised.
The President has said as much before and we believe the Government and the private sector can team up to ensure a robust irrigation strategy is launched sooner rather than later.
The effects of climate change continue to rear their ugly head through droughts and other manifestations. This simply means we cannot continue mourning, but should move into top gear to ensure strategies to circumvent the effects of climate change are pursued vigorously.
Already farmers are sceptical of the rains this season with many already predicting below normal rainfall. This would not be an issue if the country had viable irrigation schemes.
The majority of resettled farmers depend on rain-fed agriculture while a few A2 farmers have installed irrigation facilities on their farms.
Millions, if not billions of dollars are required to put in place proper irrigation facilities. The economy is looking up as both local and international investors continue to register confidence in the new dispensation.
Some of the investments can be directed towards irrigation projects. The country will not need to reinvent the wheel, but can benefit from such superb schemes as obtainable in Israel, China, India and other countries that reap huge results from irrigation.
The potential for Zimbabwe is massive. We are a country endowed with tracts of arable and fertile land which can enable us to become the region’s breadbasket once again.
We cannot allow starvation anymore when we have so many water bodies whose water should be redirected onto farms instead of offloading billions of cubic meters of water into the Indian Ocean annually.
There are thousands of farmers resettled in areas with vast swathes of water bodies that irrigate millions of hectares, but the water is going down the drain due to lack of irrigation infrastructure.
We had hoped that with at least 20 years after land redistribution, a sound irrigation system would have naturally been a priority, but thank God the situation is redeemable.
Recently, the massive Tokwe Mukosi Dam in Masvingo was added to the list of water bodies and we expected surrounding areas to be transformed into green belts. Seasonal farmers can become productive all year-round once reliable water supplies are assured.
Agriculture has potential to spearhead an export-led growth. Our products such as flowers, beans, peas are in high demand in such lucrative markets as Europe.
Banks and other finance institutions should come up with workable strategies, through their agribusiness departments, where they can even identify farmers in provinces that have good water reservoirs and good soils where they can install irrigation facilities and facilitate high production.
There will certainly be a good return on investment. These facilities should also be extended to cattle ranchers in dry parts of the country that face water challenges leading to cattle starving in some parts of Matabeleland.
By so doing the country stands better chances of improving on the quality of beef for both the local and export markets.
In Matabeleland South, one of the provinces characterised by low rainfall patterns, there are more than 44 irrigation schemes of varying sizes with a combined area of about 2 160 hectares and more than 4 000 plot-holders. This is an example of how such schemes can help fend off hunger and help the country earn millions of dollars in the process.