Over 200 000 hectares  now under irrigation Prof Obert Jiri

Patrick Chitumba

LIKE many other nations in Southern Africa, Zimbabwe is grappling with the devastating effects of climate change, especially droughts caused by El Niño.

This situation has made food security, agricultural development, and livelihoods challenging.

However, there is some good news to report, as the Government’s concerted effort to develop irrigation as a climate change adaptation strategy is bearing fruit.

Irrigated land has increased significantly from 175 000 hectares in 2019 to 217 000 hectares this year.

This is just the beginning of the story, as the Government intends to expand irrigation coverage to an impressive 350 000 hectares by next year through the Accelerated Irrigation Rehabilitation Development Plan.

Permanent secretary in the Ministry of Lands, Agriculture, Fisheries, Water, and Rural Development, Professor Obert Jiri, commended this progress, stressing the importance of irrigation development in adapting to climate change.

He also stressed the urgency of scaling up irrigation development, climate-smart agriculture, and water harvesting.

Through public-private partnerships, the Government is working towards funding the development of 153 000 hectares by 2027, with an estimated potential for irrigation in Zimbabwe reaching 2,2 million hectares.

There is a planned Zimbabwe Irrigation Investment conference that aims to discuss ways to boost investment in irrigation development and rehabilitation, drawing in about 300 participants from local and international financial institutions, donor organisations, Government ministries, parastatals, UN agencies, non-governmental organisations, the private sector, academia, and farmers’ unions, among others.

Ultimately, the goal is to increase agricultural productivity, feed the nation, and build resilience against climate change and variability.

Prof Jiri underlined the urgency of implementing transformative initiatives and strategies to boost irrigation development and rehabilitation investment. He emphasised the critical role of irrigation in achieving Zimbabwe’s economic growth, highlighting that over 70 percent of the population relies on agriculture for their livelihood.

“However, agriculture continues to face several threats affecting sustainable production and productivity. Climate change and variability, including the El Nino phenomena that is ravaging Zimbabwe and the larger part of the SADC region during the current 2023/2024 agricultural season has underscored the importance and urgency with which the country needs to build resilience against climate change and variability,” he said.

“The Government has explored several options, including Public-Private Partnerships, to attract investment into irrigation. The Government facilitated the formation of the Irrigation Development Alliance (IDA) which has intentions to fund the development of 153 000 ha of land under irrigation by 2027.” 

Prof Jiri underlined the potential for irrigation in Zimbabwe, estimating the national potential at 2,2 million hectares based on current reservoir water storage.

He further explained the current breakdown of irrigated land, indicating that 137 000 hectares are dedicated to cereals, tobacco, and other crops. 

The remaining 80 000 hectares are used for sugar cane, citrus, coffee, and tea on notable estates.

“100 000 ha of the functional area is available for cereal crops, leaving a deficit of 250 000 ha,” he said.

Prof Jiri said an estimated production of 1,8 million tonnes of maize and 400 000 tonnes of wheat is anticipated from the targeted 350 000 hectares. 

This production is expected to be sufficient to feed the nation.

“Specific objectives include discussing the current status of irrigation development in Zimbabwe and showcasing available opportunities for investing in the sector, establishing local industry capacity and mapping a way forward on the participation in irrigation rehabilitation and development.

“There is also a need to engage with multilateral financial institutions for strategic partnerships in irrigation development, to develop sustainable financing models/modalities for irrigation rehabilitation and development in Zimbabwe and to present and discuss incentives that the Government offers in irrigation development space,” he said.

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