Elizabeth Andreya Features Writer
Agriculture is the backbone of Zimbabwe’s economy as Zimbabweans remain largely a rural people, who derive their livelihoods from farming and other related rural economic activities.
Irrigation farming is contributing significantly to households in terms of income in rural areas.
General challenges facing smallholder farmers include low and erratic rainfall, low and declining soil fertility, low investment, shortages of farm power – labour and draught animals, poor physical and institutional infrastructure, poverty and recurring food insecurity.
Despite the woeful lack of support to smallholders in agriculture, these people are doing reasonably well. Most are producing surpluses and re-investing in their farms.
Research has revealed that around two thirds of people in rural areas have produced more food than just for subsistence.
People in Masvingo under Stanmore B Irrigation Scheme testified that their irrigation-fed agricultural cooperative enables them to earn an income, as they are able to meet some of their basic needs.
Stanmore B Irrigation Scheme is located in Masvingo Province, 30km east of Masvingo City with 32 beneficiaries sharing a 32-hectare field.
One of the beneficiaries, Anna Chibaya, a 49-year-old mother of three said the programme has changed their lives and they can see a big difference.
Chibaya says she joined the programme together with her husband in 2014, and they have managed to develop their plots, build houses and pay school fees for their three children, who are all in boarding schools.
“The truth is irrigation agriculture is good for us people in rural areas, especially those of us from Masvingo since there is little rainfall.
“Irrigation agriculture has transformed our lives and we are now better people. We live the life we want and eat what we want, because we get money from the produce we sell at the markets,” she said.
“Because of this programme I was able to build a beautiful house, drill a borehole, and my children are both in boarding schools. Last year we bought a lorry and recently my husband bought a small car for me, a Honda Fit, because we are working hard, all because of this irrigation scheme, she revealed.
Chibaya said the Government in partnership with Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) did a great thing for them in introducing this agriculture programme in their area.
“I would like to thank our Government and FAO for this great thing. It has helped a lot of people in this community,” Chibaya added.
Amon Bumudza, chairman of Stanmore B Irrigation Scheme, also acknowledged the great achievements that came with the irrigation programme in their area.
“Before we had this facility we were not doing anything special, but now we are benefiting a lot. Our lives are changing because we now have water to grow our crops. We get our water from Mutirikwi River where there is a perennial water body. There is also a dam that was left by a white farmer, who was once here,” said Bumhudza.
Bumhudza said everything is perfect at their community farm apart from lack of electricity and harvesting tools.
“Everything is fine with us, but we are only facing challenges of electricity these days so we end up watering our farm in the evening. This is costing us a lot because it will be late and pipes are bursting and it is hard to make follow-ups to see what is happening during the night.
“We also need equipment for harvesting because we are leaving most of our produce in the field because of lack of equipment to harvest all our crops,” he said.
Bumhudza also said their group is getting more help from FAO interns on how to grow their crops as some of them do not know much about farming.
Irrigation is essential to boost production in dryland areas, especially given the increased variability in rainfall patterns due to climate change.
Cash earned from selling this produce is used to cover household needs like cooking oil, paraffin and others. It also enables members to meet educational needs of their children such as exercise books and tuition fees, which help people in rural areas to sustain their lives and ending hunger and poverty in the country.
Irrigation agriculture also empowers women in rural areas and emancipates them socially. Women tend to play a leading role in irrigation farming and this ensures their participation in development initiatives and poverty alleviation in rural areas.
There is need to support irrigation initiatives in rural areas, providing the equipment and inputs to them and search for markets where they can sell their goods as improved agriculture production matched with access to markets increases income generation capacities of smallholder farmers ,and creates opportunities for them, thereby improving livelihoods.
Most rural people in Zimbabwe depend on crop and livestock farming. They grow maize, other cereals and legumes and raise goats and cattle or dairy cows.
However, because of the changing rainfall patterns in recent years, most people in rural areas have food insecurities, and usually rely on the Government.
The responsible communities should join hands with NGOs, charity organisations, and help people in rural areas by providing initiatives like Stanmore B Irrigation Scheme in each area. This will help in reducing Government costs on buying food grains.
These programmes will also empower people in rural areas and help them feed their children.
Better integration of crop and livestock production and improved market functioning lead to increased agricultural production, which in turn improves food security, increases incomes, and enhance the resilience of communities most vulnerable to food insecurity in Zimbabwe.
Moreover, there is a need for more dams in rural areas to enable agricultural activities. In some areas dams do exist, but there is need for rehabilitation as they are no longer capable of providing whole communities with water for irrigation purposes.
Rural farmers also need training on climate change so that their activities do not affect the environment.
Food security has remained a challenge in Southern Africa due to climate change effects such as droughts and floods.
The United Nations agencies are working with Government to counter the effects of climate change by promoting climate smart agriculture, including conservation agriculture, where communities have been capacitated so that they use new farming methods, which ensure better yields in the face of unpredictable weather patterns linked to climate change.
These efforts are in line with the Sustainable Development Goals of ending poverty and hunger, and dovetail with Vision 2030 objectives.