Thupeyo Muleya, Beitbridge Bureau
EUROPEAN Union Ambassador to Zimbabwe, Mr Phillipe Van Damme, has called on farmers to invest in renewable energy projects as alternative power for irrigation projects.
Speaking during a tour of irrigation schemes in Matabeleland South last week, Mr Van Damme said irrigation farming has the great potential to revive the country’s dream of an agro-based economy.
The European Commission and the Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) are working closely to support resuscitation of irrigation schemes in the region.
Mr Van Damme said Matabeleland region had an abundance of solar energy, which the farmers could exploit, adding that the unavailability of adequate irrigation water and electricity was affecting productivity of most farming projects across the province.
“It is apparent that water and electricity are the main challenges for farmers in this region. The adoption of renewable energy, which is cost effective can go a long way in increasing productivity,” said Mr Van Damme.
“The climatic conditions here are very conducive for irrigation farming complemented by a good supply of electricity. It is pleasing to note that a number of projects here have the huge potential in turning around the lives of many people and feed into Zimbabwe’s national economic development.
“We will take some of the findings to ZimTrade and see how best those farmers involved in citrus production can be capacitated.”
Mr Van Damme called on development agencies to shift from the humanitarian aid approach perspective and focus more on developing commercial businesses at community level.
He said it was also important for small holder farmers to develop a business mentality.
“We must get to a situation where we have farmers with a different mind-set on planning, management and production.
“They must be capacitated with the right tools and skills so that they increase sustainability and economic development of their respective areas. Further, we have noted that Matabeleland South is conducive for both horticulture and citrus production in most areas lying along major rivers”, said Mr Van Damme.
He said there was a need for a development of a value chain strategy to enhance profitability and viability for most irrigation projects.
In Beitbridge, Mr Van Damme toured Bili, Jalukange, Limpopo and Shashe Irrigation Schemes.
He commended Cesvi and the Shashe Irrigation Scheme Trust for breathing life into the 245 hectares project, which had almost ground to a halt.
Cesvi country director, Mr Loris Palentini said they received $1.5million from the EU commission in 2011, which they used to transform Shashe into a model irrigation project in the province.
“We received a further $500 000 from the Germany International Cooperation and Schweppes Zimbabwe and this has seen the farmers putting 92 hectares on citrus production.
“This year alone they have managed to send 270 tonnes to the Beitbridge Juice Plant (a subsidiary of Schweppes) and we are hopeful that they will increase output in the next season,” he said.
Shashe Irrigation Scheme Trust chairperson, Mr Albert Mbedzi, said they were struggling to repair four irrigation pumps, which were damaged by flash floods early this year.
“At the moment we are relying on five pumps, while we await the repair of the broken down equipment,” he said.