Instead of being elated over the rehabilitation of Marowa Irrigation Scheme in Masvingo province, in the south central part of Zimbabwe to boost food security and climate change adaptation, farmers here feel that the huge silt deposited along the irrigation channels could defeat the purpose of this scheme.
The built up of debris and silt into the irrigation canals from a dam about a kilometre upstream is threatening to choke the survival of this scheme along the Roy – Gutu highway.
Instead of triggering jubilation among 320 people benefiting from the scheme, this environmental problem has caused anxiety as irrigation channels have been smothered with silt.
Farmers here at this 20-hectare small scale irrigation are now appealing to the Environmental Management Agency for immediate attention.
“Siltation is a big problem here,” says elderly Runesu Matizanadzo, a village head in the Marowa resettlement area. “Our irrigation scheme is facing a real threat. Siltation can cause our scheme to collapse at any moment.”
Matizanadzo says they have complained repeatedly to EMA about people cutting down trees recklessly around Marowa dam, but no action has been taken.
“We have complained to EMA and the Ministry of Lands for years about this, but nothing has been done to stop people from cutting down trees around the dam,” he says pointing at a canal.
“We need this to be addressed as a matter of urgency. People have little knowledge about how cutting down trees can also lead to siltation which can fill up our canals. It’s a huge threat to our irrigation scheme and we want EMA and the ministry of lands to support us on this matter.”
Other farmers echoed similar sentiments calling on EMA to step in and support them in the fight against deforestation and siltation.
“Enforcement by EMA around the dam is weak and people are just cutting down trees recklessly leading to siltation of Marowa Dam where we draw our water for irrigation,” says Charity Shavi, secretary of the scheme.
“Streambank cultivation has also worsened the situation. We need support from EMA to stop this.”
Fears abound that debris and silt brought into the irrigation canal can prompt the shutdown of the scheme affecting livelihoods here at Marowa.
The rehabilitation of the Marowa Irrigation Scheme and 13 others in the drought-prone Masvingo province was made possible through support from Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation (SDC), Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) and the government.
Brazil has also offered equipment and machinery to support the 14 small-scale irrigation schemes in the province.
Masvingo falls under natural farming region five which receives little rainfall to sustain crop production.
The province is prone to droughts and other natural disasters such as flooding, which has over the years affected the food security position of many people here.
Rabson Hleruka, FAO provincial facilitator said his organisation started work to rehabilitate the 14 schemes in four districts of Masvingo in 2014 under a four-year US$6 million programme.
“The main objective is to improve livelihoods, nutrition and health as well as improve yields for farmers,” he says.
“We want farmers to adopt farming as a business to improve the quality of their lives and make a contribution to the economy.”
The FAO, he says, remains committed in building the resilience of farmers against such disasters as drought, floods and climate change.
The scope of work at Marowa Irrigation Scheme included the rehabilitation of siphon, main and infield canals, development of portable water supplies, construction of toilets and a scheme shed.
About 3250m of canals were built with concrete to reduce water loss.
Water flows naturally from a dam upstream and the scheme does not need any solar or electric water pumps.
This has saved farmers from buying this equipment.
Apart from the threats of siltation, the rehabilitation of this irrigation facility has contributed to increased food production and improved income for the farmers.
Farmers have grown 10ha of Michigan pea beans, 4.5ha green mealies and 2ha of mixed vegetables that include tomatoes, onions, cabbage, butternut and leaf vegetables.
They are also growing maize and groundnuts.
“This is a very useful facility for us as farmers,” says Shavi. “I’m very happy about the level of support we are getting from FAO, the government, SDC and other partners.
“We are now able to raise money for fees for our children, to buy food and clothes from the earnings we are getting.”
She sounded a note of optimism about the future of this irrigation facility.
“Our future is bright because of this irrigation scheme,” she says. “We are looking at expanding our crop production by growing more crops such as potatoes, cucumbers, carrots, peas and other crops.”
FAO has trained the farmers on irrigation management, crop agronomy and market linkages.
To date, the farmers have managed to sell three tonnes of Michigan beans to Cairns Foods, a large food manufacturing concern at about US$950 a tonne.
“Having a ready market for our crops is important,” says Shavi. “Markets help us to take farming as a business. We see the real value of farming. It gives us and our children a reason to stay on the farm.”
She says as a result of good market linkages their children who often shunned agriculture were now coming back to take up farming.
“Our children were shunning farming, but now it’s different,” Shavi says. “They are now finding agriculture lucrative and attractive. They now see the money and I want to thank FAO for helping us find buyers for our crops.”
Farmers at Marowa Irrigation Scheme have a potential to earn about US$500 to $1 000 for maize per hectare, Michigan pea beans $1000 – $2 000/ha while vegetables range from US$400-US$700/0.1ha.
Apart from Cairns, the farmers have plans to supply maize to GMB and other cash crops to local markets – OK retail giant and Chitima markets in Masvingo.
In addition to the rehabilitation of the irrigation facility, FAO has been supporting the farmers with summer crop production planning and brokering partnerships, conservation works, HIV and AIDS awareness training and the construction of a shed.
For smallholder farmers in Marowa, irrigation is the answer to food insecurity.
With the little rainfall which is often received in this province, farmers say irrigation is the only way out to food security. They say the rehabilitation of the Marowa scheme is a welcome development that will see them growing crops throughout the year.
“Irrigation is the only solution for us as our area is very dry and hardly gets adequate rains,” says Shavi. “We want to thank our partners FAO, the government and SDC for the support they are giving us.
“Waiting for handouts is not good at all for our people. Its only through working the land and taking agriculture as a business that will see us ending poverty and hunger in our area.”
But for the visionary elderly Matizanadzo, it is environmental protection that matters most. “We need more support and training to help us understand the gravity of siltation and how we can stop it,” he says.
“We need to learn skills to curb the perennial silting of the open canals of our irrigation facility. EMA and the ministry of lands have to support us to fight people who are contributing to the siltation of our facility.
“Unless we stop this, I don’t see how we as farmers can contribute to increased food production and improved income for the farmers in the future.”
Desiltation skills, he suggests, will be key to the survival of the scheme.