By Ndafadza Madanha
THE Successive ZANU PF Governments since 1980 have made striking achievements in advancing socio-economic development of the country.
One area that the Party and its Government has focused on is the agricultural sector, which is a major source of livelihood for the majority of Zimbabweans.
Agriculture is critical to Zimbabwe’s economy providing 30 percent of export earnings and contributing 19 percent to GDP, while 70 percent of the population still survives on farming.
Currently Zimbabwe is in the throes of a second consecutive underwhelming agricultural season which has left millions of citizens requiring food assistance from Government and well-wishers.
While there is very little government can do to stop the recurrence of drought it can play a major role in mitigating its impact through enhancing the country’s irrigation capacity particularly among smallholder farmers.
Zimbabwe is estimated to have over 10 000 dams and this is sufficient to ensure national food sufficiency.
Despite this impressive figure of dams, land under irrigation is still a challenge in the country and this is not only a problem for Zimbabwe but the entire Southern Africa sub region.
The Food and Agriculture Organization says only 7 percent of arable land in Southern Africa is irrigated – a mere 3.4 million hectares out of a possible 50 million hectares of arable land. This is unacceptable for a region that relies on cereals particularly maize given the crop’s sensitivity to dry spells.
President ED Mnangagwa has already signalled his Government desire to address the issue of climate change through optimal use of water bodies to enhance productivity and ensure national food self-sufficiency.
“Agriculture remains a key sector in the resuscitation and growth of our economy. The restructured Ministry of Lands, Agriculture, Water, Climate and Rural Resettlement will have an accelerated, more coordinated and composite approach to the modernization and mechanization of our agriculture sector.
As we aspire to achieve maximum land utilization for increased productivity; there is need for strategic and concise planning, development and use of our water bodies throughout the country. We will be pursuing further investments and cooperation in this respect,” said President Mnangagwa at the official opening of Parliament in 2018.
The President's statement was immediately followed by the introduction of the National Accelerated Irrigation Rehabilitation Programme, targeting development of around 200 irrigated hectares per district, utilizing the abundant water bodies in the country with support of development partners.
Also through the 2019 national budget, US$36.5m was set aside for the development of 7 000 hectares on 115 irrigation schemes across the country.
The irrigation schemes are expected to mitigate the effects of drought, climate change and increase agricultural production and productivity.
Additionally, Government with the support of developmental partners is working on the rehabilitation of a number of irrigation schemes.
One such scheme is Nyakomba irrigation scheme recently commissioned at a cost of US $165m by President Mnangagwa with the support of the Japanese Government.
Through the irrigation scheme benefiting over 400 households is envisaged that yields will double and enhance household food security and incomes in spite of the effects of climate change.
Further, government has committed to rehabilitating and resuscitating several community irrigation projects that had collapsed in the last two decades in drought prone areas.
In the 2020 budget statement a staggering ZWL$422m was provided for irrigation programmes and Deputy Mininster for Lands, Agriculture, Water, Climate and Rural Resettlement Vangelis Haritatos says the package is an indication that government was fully aware of the need to make huge investments in irrigation development.
“The growing effects of climate change on weather patterns make it imperative to have efficient and working irrigation facilities. We also need to accelerate and ensure that we make significant investments into irrigation facilities given the fact that generally, average yields in irrigated farms are 90% higher than those of rain fed farms”.
Some other projects Government has earmarked include the Tokwe- Mukosi and Runde- Tende dam construction which have the potential to turn the lowveld region into a green belt.
The completed Tokwe-Mukosi dam has capacity to irrigate 25 000 hectares while Runde-Tende dam will have far much greater capacity.
Under the Smallholder Irrigation Revitalization Programme co-funded by the International Fund for Agricultural development (IFAD), Opec Fund for International Development (OFID) and Government an amount of $11.4m will be availed for development of feasibility studies and rehabilitation of 24 irrigation schemes in four provinces.
Another $2.2m from the Kuwait Fund for Arab Economic Development was disbursed during 2019 for detailed designs and other works for Zhove Irrigation Scheme estimated to benefit 5 000 households.