Around mid-morning on one Friday, the normally quiet bushy area 20 kilometres just off the Mbalabala-Zvishavane highway reverberated with song and dance as local farmers in the area welcomed the visitors from the different corners of Matabeleland South province and beyond who had come to witness the handover of irrigation infrastructure to the community.
The infrastructure put up at a cost of close to $500 000, will benefit 60 Amazon Irrigation Scheme farmers in Ward 16 of Insiza District.
Indeed hard work, dedication and perseverance has paid off for the farmers whose dream began a decade ago with 16 elders meeting under a tree to discuss the idea of harnessing water from the nearby Insiza River to enable them to cultivate crops under irrigation as opposed to waiting for the rains. This project, the elders reckoned, would strike them off the list of perpetual receivers of food handouts in this dry part of Zimbabwe.
Much to their amusement, the project has blossomed way beyond their expectations as they now have a food processing and packaging plant, courtesy of Zimbabwe Project Trust (ZimPro) a non-governmental organisation which came to the aid of the farmers in appreciation of their struggle to eradicate hunger.
Insiza District falls in agro-ecological region four, which on average records annual rainfall of between 450 to 650 millimeters and is prone to frequent droughts.
Mr Mikayeli Sidambe, Amazon project chairperson and founder member said in 2007, having realised that the low rainfall pattern in the region renders dry land cropping unsustainable, the founder members working with the local councillor and traditional leaders approached the Insiza Rural District Council with a request for land on a bushy area close to Insiza River with a proposal to set up an irrigation project.
“”When we were allocated the space in 2007, we started clearing the bush using hand tools that we brought from our own homes. In 2008, we then started planting and watering the crops collecting water from the river using buckets. It was hard work and some members gave up,” said Mr Sidambe.
He said the situation suddenly changed when ZimPro offered to assist.
“We could hardly believe it when we were informed by officials from the District Administrator’s office that ZimPro had offered to help us develop the project. For seven years we had been struggling to raise money to fence off the area and all that was to be taken care of under the assistance programme we were promised,” said Mr Sidambe.
Giving a background of the intervention at the handover ceremony, ZimPro national director Mr Tobias Chipare said his organisation moved into Insiza District in 1999 with projects that were mainly responding to humanitarian crisis and these included construction of toilets after the destruction that had been brought about by Cyclone Eline. “At one time, we were feeding children at all secondary schools and 80 percent of primary schools in the whole district,” said Mr Chipare
He said his organisation realised that it needed to come up with an initiative that would be able to sustain the communities when the organisation pulled out of the area.
“We asked ourselves what next if we were to continue giving handouts.”
It was then that in 2013, the organisation came up with the food and income security project proposal that included assisting farmers in the irrigation scheme.
“Our aim was to have a project that would sustain the future generation when we are gone,” said Mr Chipare.
Infrastructure developments at the scheme at a cost of about $500 000 included fencing the 11,6 hectare plot, construction of a weir along Insiza River and assisting the group to secure water rights from the Zimbabwe National Water Authority (ZINWA).
It also took care of electrification of the irrigation scheme, purchasing and installing a water pump and construction of canals as well as construction of a value addition and processing centre at the irrigation scheme.
Mr Chipare said he was delighted that the weir had withstood the storm that came with Cyclone Dineo although the pump house was swept away when ZINWA opened the valves at Insiza Dam to save it from bursting. The pump was however saved as the farmers had removed it before the onset of the floods.
The programme that was undertaken in partnership with field officers from Government departments that include Agritex, Department of Mechanisation and Irrigation, Ministry of Women Affairs, Gender and Community Development, Small and Medium Enterprises and Department of Livestock Production and Development, also involved training the farmers on programmes that include leadership, modern farming methods, disaster risk reduction, climate change and supporting farmers to visit other irrigation schemes.
During the function, Insiza North MP Cde Andrew Langa who was the guest of honour presented a tractor that was donated to the farmers by Government as part of a programme to assist all irrigation schemes.
Cde Langa encouraged farmers to concentrate on cash crops and take advantage of the processing and packaging facility that they had been provided with by the donor. The facility includes a drier for drying and packaging vegetables. The farmers will also be packaging popcorn from maize produced at the scheme.
Agritex district extension officer Mr Augustine Mhike who received the certificate of completion of the project said the project would enable communities to become food secure and reduce the number of people who require food handouts and was in line with the country’s economic blueprint, ZimAsset.
Crops so far produced include maize, sugar beans, tomatoes, onions, cabbage, and butternut. At the time of the hand over, visitors were shown the 5,9 hectares under sugar beans and soon to be harvested 4,4 hectares of maize on a total area of 11,6 hectares under irrigation. Clearing of 1,3 hactares for planting of potatoes and butternut is underway.