Breakthrough for Zim’s small scale farmers

Rumbidzayi Zinyuke
Smallholder farmers in Zimbabwe’s Manicaland province are set to receive a boost in their crop production following the signing of a Grant Agreement for the development of Nyakomba Irrigation scheme in Nyanga.

The $15 million grant, which was signed between the Government of Zimbabwe and the Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA) on Monday, is expected to increase food security and macro-economic development for the locals.

JICA is an agency that coordinates official development assistance for the government of Japan and is commissioned with assisting economic and social growth in developing countries, and promotion of international co-operation. The agency has about 100 offices located worldwide including 9 in the SADC region.

Speaking at the signing ceremony, Finance and Economic Development Minister Patrick Chinamasa said the intervention by Japan in the agriculture sector will assist in reducing the adverse impact of climate change, restore damaged irrigation infrastructure and develop new irrigation infrastructure for A1 and A2 farmers in Nyakomba.

“The development of the irrigation scheme does not only improve food security and nutrition for the nation but, also provides increased net income for the people in Nyakomba,” he said.

Nyakomba was originally developed between 1997-2000 after the Japanese government funded Phase 1 of the irrigation development for a cost of approximately $51,8 million.

However, the facility was damaged by Cyclone Eline in 2000 and since then the scheme, subdivided into 0.8 hectares per plot holder, has been operating below capacity.

This new project will mainly see the development of Block A, bringing in an additional 146 hectares under irrigation and benefiting some 230 households. It will also see the rehabilitation of Blocks B, C and D which comprise 471 hectares. The completed scheme will cover a total of 617 hectares of land under irrigation.

Actual implementation is scheduled to commence in December this year and is expected to be completed by March 2018. Japanese Ambassador to Zimbabwe Yoshi Tendai Hiraishi also reiterated the importance of irrigation in promoting self-sufficiency in small holder farmers.

“Traditional farming practices in Nyakomba have been totally revolutionalised as a result of all-year mixed cropping and in addition to food crops, farmers are encouraged to diversify their farming into cash crops such as chili, paprika and tobacco for the export market,” he said.

“Once completed, we hope that this irrigation scheme will act as an exemplary scheme and that it will be emulated in other parts of the country.
“As a result of the project agricultural productivity in the area is expected to improve tremendously and consequently contribute to the nationwide goal of increased food production and promotion of nutrition, which is the first pillar of the ZimAsset.”

Although the Nyakomba irrigation scheme has been operating below capacity, there have been some success stories.
Working with USAID, contracted smallholder farmers in Nyakomba have been growing chillies that make America’s famous Tabasco sauce since the 2011/2012 season.

While the seeds for all the peppers grown for Tabasco originate at the home of Tabasco on Avery Island, the peppers are grown in Zimbabwe, as well as other countries in Africa and South America.

In 2012, farmers picked more than 2000 kilograms of chillies and the figures have been growing since.
Agriculture, Mechanisation and Irrigation Development Minister Joseph Made said more farmers could benefit from such irrigation schemes.

“When you look at the work that has been done, it is a classic example of the level of technical support being given to the area. Even though major crops such as maize, tobacco, wheat have flourished, there are also other crops that the farmers have grown that have contributed to the well-being of the farmers.

“Today you hear of Tabasco chillies, the women farmers have meticulously worked with the extension people and are now producing first class material that is being exported for purposes of the main stock that is then used for blending,” he said.

Irrigation schemes in Africa have been used by most African governments as a vehicle to try and achieve food self-sufficiency and as a source of foreign of foreign exchange earnings from export crops.

Although most of the schemes that have been implemented by different governments have either achieved or nearly achieved their targets, many have been affected by weak management and inadequate operating budgets. This has often resulted in farmers reverting to their traditionally diverse activities, eventually leading to neglect of irrigated areas and low production.

Southern Africa has an estimated 9,1 million hectares of potentially irrigable land with just over 1 929 000 hectares already under irrigation, the bulk of this land, 1 270 000 hectares being in South Africa.

Zimbabwe has capacity to irrigate 2 244 800 hectares. Despite the existing enormous irrigation development potential in the country, only about 206 000ha is equipped, of which 150 000ha is currently under irrigation.

The communal irrigation sector with a total equipped area of approximately 10 000ha is the most affected and vulnerable having less than 65 percent of the schemes fully functional. Government has set targets to rehabilitate or expand more than 400 irrigation schemes in all the provinces.

While the government is constrained in terms of cash to fund these projects, it has created room for investment in that avenue.
Besides the new grant for Nyakomba, the Food and Agricultural Organisation (FAO) is currently administering European Union support towards 20 smallholder irrigation schemes in Manicaland and Matabeleland South.

Minister Chinamasa said Government will avail funding in the 2016 national budget, for the construction of irrigation facilities for Block E in Nyakomba.
This will cover 94 hectares and benefit 180 small holder farmers.

December 2015
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