Feature Patrick Chitumba, Midlands Bureau Chief
Around 2015, a once-vibrant irrigation scheme in Lower Gweru was facing collapse.
There were a plethora of problems including infighting among members over the control of the irrigation scheme which resulted in their failure to settle Zesa and Zimbabwe National Water Authority (Zinwa) debts. Crops wilted and members left with nothing.
Fast forward to January this year, Insukamini Irrigation Scheme is now the pride of the Midlands Province and the 150 members from Insukamini area are now proud to be associated with its success. The irrigation scheme recently scooped first prize at the 2019 National Irrigation Competition, winning $30 000, a trophy and seed maize from various seed companies.
Siyalima Irrigation Scheme from Mashonaland Central Province came second and received $25 000, while Magokobi Irrigation Scheme from Matabeleland South Province was third and got $20 000. They all received seed maize from various seed houses.
The competition started at district and provincial level before going to national level where attention was put on efficient water, energy, land, climate change and production management.
Insukamini chairperson Mrs Morleen Majazi said the scheme had won through sheer hard work which would spur them to aim even higher. “I’m happy that we’ve won. Hard work forever pays,” she said.
Mrs Majazi, however, said the success of the irrigation scheme could not have happened without assistance from the Centre for Conflict Management and Transformation (CCMT), a local non-governmental organisation.
“We were down and out following squabbles at the irrigation scheme but we got back to our feet after CCMT sat us down, which saw us coming up with a constitution that gave each member a role to play for the success of the irrigation scheme. CCMT held field days and offered training programmes on book- keeping, constitution-making and a whole lot of things and today we are proud winners of the coveted national irrigation schemes award,” said Mrs Majazi, happily.
Irrigation schemes were established by the Government to improve agricultural productivity, improve food security and help alleviate poverty in rural communities of Zimbabwe as most people rely directly and indirectly on agriculture.
Most irrigation schemes have, however, failed in their objective to improve food security and alleviate poverty. Productivity has been low and in some cases the schemes have failed to function at all.
The prevailing drought and food security issues have remained dire over the past decade, exposing millions of people to food insecurity and poverty even though Zimbabwe has one of the highest proportions of irrigated land in the region.
Experience gleaned through working with irrigation schemes and a baseline survey in two districts of Mberengwa and Vungu conducted by CCMT has shown that irrigation schemes are affected by a plethora of problems both internally and externally.
“Internally, the challenges include but are not limited to weak leadership skills, weak financial management skills and weak conflict management and transformation skills. Externally the schemes are affected by policies that do not support a conducive environment for the successful operation of irrigation schemes. For example, unclear water pricing policies and the general lack of clarity on how the schemes should be operated,” said CCMT programme officer, Mr Xavier Mudangwe.
He said in terms of leadership, irrigation schemes are characterised by internal leadership conflicts between Irrigation Management Committee (IMC) members, and the IMCs and leaders from surrounding communities including councillors, traditional leaders, MPs and Government officers over the management and administration of the facilities.
Internally, the clashes emanate from inter-generational differences, where the elderly clash with the young over differing visions on scheme management.
Government through the Agriculture and Rural Development Authority (Arda) provided a lot of financial support to irrigation schemes for working capital, medium term loans for farm machinery and equipment. But in the 1990s, in the spirit of the Economic Structural Adjustment Programme, government withdrew from directly financing irrigation schemes with a number of private players having taken up this role and continue to do so.
The effect of this is that this provided little incentive for local control and management of irrigation schemes and the promotion of self-sustenance.
“Productivity has also been affected by conflicts between farmers and IMCs over the lack of transparency in financial management as IMCs fail to account for contributions made for different projects being carried out within the schemes. The result has been the refusal by some farmers to contribute towards the administration of the irrigation schemes. A majority of the irrigation schemes do not have fundraising and business plans that provide a blueprint clearly outlining plans that will ensure self-reliance and sustainability of the schemes. This has left the schemes gullible to loan houses that offer loans with high interest rates which they then fail to pay back. This is further compounded by the fact that the irrigation schemes do not have a legal standing which makes it difficult for them to institute legal action against loan houses and in some cases individual famers not contributing as stated by the constitutions,” said Mr Mudangwe.
He said policies regulating the operation of irrigation schemes have also contributed to the low productivity, as they do not support the creation of a conducive environment that ensure successful operation of irrigation schemes. The policies do not clarify whether irrigation schemes are autonomous bodies, or if not, which government institution is responsible for their operations.
Additionally, productivity is also affected by the rigidity of water resource management policies, which have not aided in ensuring productivity within irrigation schemes, something that can be traced back to the pre-independence era.
The Water Act of 1927 attached water rights to land ownership, which meant that African farmers on the communally owned land could not own water rights for the enterprises, which meant that water rights belonged to the District Commissioner as they did not have security of tenure. Irrigators simply had user rights, leases which entitle them to till the plots if they do not violate their rights and manage to pay their water rates. The government tried to evolve the water policy by repealing the Water Act of 1976 replacing it with the Water Act of 1998.
Although this was a noble idea in terms of water resource management, much did not change in terms of the practicalities on the ground as irrigation schemes continue to face challenges in terms of water access.
The water management policy has remained rigid and is not responsive to the needs and concerns of farmers. The participation of farmers in water management has remained weak and there is need to increase the participation of famers in management of water resources as stipulated in the Water Act to ensure their needs and concerns are addressed
In light of the above, it has become apparent that any efforts towards ensuring improving productivity, food security and poverty alleviation, should go beyond just availing livelihood capitals both tangible and intangible, but should also focus on the transformation of structures and processes that create barriers to the functionality and production.
This requires a system wide review and transformation of the organisational structures and systems, so as to enable irrigation schemes to function more effectively, which will enable them to adapt and respond to changes in the environment.
CCMT recommends a sustained and more inclusive process that invests time in understanding the conflicts, conducting necessary research on the conflict issues, prioritising the conflict issues and carrying out dialogue to address the issues.
The Government, in partnership with CCMT has launched a District Irrigation Schemes (DIS) Management Committee in Mberengwa and Gweru.
Crop and Livestock Production Provincial Officer for Midlands province, Mrs Medlinah Magwenzi said Government is committed to improving food security for the nation.
She said the new DIS is expected to see the revival and rehabilitation of schemes in the province.
“Agriculture is the backbone of the economy and it propels development in all sectors of the economy. We need to revamp all irrigation schemes by working around problems they are facing through the District Irrigation Schemes Management Committee. As farmers, we need to work with this committee, it’s a welcome development for the agricultural sector. Government introduced irrigation schemes to beat climate change and since 2016 — we’ve had CCMT assisting in revamping many irrigation schemes in Mberengwa and Gweru areas in support of Government programmes on improving food security,” she said.
CCMT director Mr Wonder Phiri said his organisation has several projects running in the Midlands province adding that the launch of the DIS recognises that agriculture is the cornerstone of the province and country.
“The goal of this programme is to ensure that productivity increases. We would like to thank Government ministries who are collaborating with CCMT in this pilot project. If it’s successful, it’ll be taken to other districts across the country,” he said.
Mr Phiri said since 2017, they have been conducting baseline surveys on a number of challenges affecting the viability of irrigation schemes with the hope of finding lasting solutions to them. “A lot of problems have been around leadership, financial responsibility and land tenure. So, we did a joint project design with irrigation schemes to assist each other to get to the next level.
“The likes of Zesa and seed companies were involved to work on challenges that work against food productivity. We chose Mberengwa and Gweru irrigation schemes and did strategic plans and we now have strategic plans and constitutions they developed themselves as irrigation schemes,” he said.