Zim requires $1bn to resuscitate irrigation

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LIVINGSTONE MARUFU

Zimbabwe requires up to $1 billion to revive its irrigation schemes for future cropping season but the current season is now in disarray as most crops are wilting from the El Ninoinduced drought.

The development comes at a time when the hot dry spell has extended to over a fortnight causing most crops to wilt due to severe moisture stress, with some areas already write-offs.

Farmers representatives who had projected an increase in output have now reviewed all yields downwards as some crops have completely dried out.

With the Meteorological Services Department announcing the official ending of the 2018/2019 summer rainy season, food shortages are likely to worsen this year.

Wonder Chabikwa, the ZCFU president, told Business Times that the country needed to invest more on irrigation in a bid to improve yields and overall productivity on farms.

“Zimbabwe requires a range of between $600m and $1bn annually to resuscitate irrigation infrastructure to alleviate El Nino induced drought and increase productivity in the agriculture sector and boost more exports,” Chabikwa said.

“Given the dry spell in the past three weeks or so, the crop situation has become so dire that the country’s total output is likely to go down by over 50% and it’s not good for the economy, especially looking at where we were standing before the advancing drought disaster.”

He said while the government had over the years built dams, the water bodies were “nothing without an irrigation connection to them”. There was need, he said, to resuscitate old irrigation equipment for this winter season.

“Without irrigation we are not going anywhere as a country, we need to think deeply about reviving the old irrigation schemes that have been run down over the years to ensure food security,” Chabikwa said.

While farmers may be given inputs such as fertiliser and seeds, Chabikwa said there was need to maintain irrigation schemes to produce all year round and mitigate drought every year.

The government developed 11 400 hectares of low-cost irrigation schemes in 2017 under the Public Sector Investment Programme (PSIP) in a bid to improve agriculture productivity levels. Experts say more needs to be done to produce enough for the country and also for export. The project cost $30m and increased the size of irrigable land.

There are also ongoing PSIP projects in areas such as Chiduku – Tikwiri in Manicaland, Chitora in Mashonaland East, and Fuwe Panganayi in Masvingo Province. These are expected to shield farmers from droughts. The government is targeting 200 hectares of irrigated land per district under PSIPs in a bid to improve productivity levels per hectare.

Currently, the country has 150 000 hectares of irrigable land and is targeting a total of 300 000 by 2022. Erratic distribution of rainfall poses downside risks to the rain-fed agriculture.

The Ministry of Agriculture has sunk a number of boreholes to capacitate smallholders. However, many boreholes need repair.

Paul Zakariya, the executive director of the Zimbabwe Farmers Union, thinks farmers need to practice conservative farming in order to produce enough yields in the absence of irrigation infrastructure.

“Those who have draught power can make dip furrows which can keep moisture for a long time while those who don’t have draught power can dig down with hoes to safeguard humidity,” he says.

“We should stick to drought tolerant varieties that can survive in the toughest of conditions and we need our farmers to know more about the smart climate awareness programme to plan their season, knowing the challenges ahead in terms of climate changes. Overall, even if we do rain-fed agriculture, we should have a small irrigated area which can cushion us from hunger,” Zakariya added.

Agriculture accounts for 50% of employment nationwide, 11% of GDP 25% of total exports, and 60% of raw materials for the manufacturing sector. Experts say the nation can cut its import bill by US$1.5 billion if it grows sufficient food.