Mashudu Netsianda in Shashe, Beitbridge
THE MASSIVE citrus farming project at Shashe Irrigation Scheme in Beitbridge, Matabeleland South Province, being spearheaded by Government and its implementing partners, has created an oasis of hope for 186 small holder farmers in the semi-arid district.
Beitbridge is largely a dry area characterised by low rainfall and recurrent drought.
Despite its geographical location, farmers have managed to turn their dreams of becoming successful citrus farmers into reality.
They have transformed 66 hectares of land, previously lying idle, into a flourishing citrus plantation, which has also generated employment for the local community.
Through their efforts, farmers, comprising 99 females, 86 males and three local schools – Shashe secondary and primary and Mapani Primary School – are defining their success farming story, contributing significantly to food security for the nation in line with the Agriculture and Food System Transformation Strategy (2020-2025) whose thrust is to see Zimbabwe achieving a US$8,2 billion agriculture economy by 2025.
The strategy, which was launched by President Mnangagwa in August 2020, is underpinned by growing the economy and ensuring Zimbabwe grows its own food and sees the majority of rural families move from poverty to affluence.
The enviable farming project is a joint effort involving several partners that include Cesvi, an Italian non-governmental organisation that has partnered Government in supporting rural communities’ transformation into commercial agriculture.
This is being achieved through modernisation of infrastructure, market approach and new management systems.
Cesvi is working with smallholder farmers across the country to revive exports of oranges and paprika and exploring the niche of saffron.
The beneficiary schools have an average of 550 learners.
Each farmer owns 80 orange trees and they started harvesting yesterday and expect to deliver at least 1 000 tonnes of oranges to their major supplier, Beitbridge Juice Company, which is owned by Schweppes.
On average, each farmer produces five tonnes of oranges per season.
Last year, farmers realised US$46 000 and $9 million in profits after selling 800 tonnes of the citrus fruits.
Shashe Irrigation Scheme resident agronomist, Mr Godman Moyo said the idea of growing citrus is a market-oriented approach emanating from the introduction of the Beitbridge Juice processing plant, which ensures a reliable market for the farmers.
He, however, said they were in the process of partnering Nottingham Estate, one of the country’s largest citrus producers, to secure the export market.
Already, Nottingham Estate is assisting farmers at Shashe Irrigation Scheme with inputs and technical advice and consultancy to grow their business.
“There is a memorandum of understanding between farmers and the Schweppes owned Beitbridge Juice Company to supply the oranges and the bulk of the produce goes there.
We also have plans to venture into other markets both local and foreign,” said Mr Moyo.
“We are working with our partners, Cesvi, and they want to help farmers to meet the export requirements and the global certification.”
He said this year, they introduced a trial run with the 2,5 hectares, which is the demonstration block where they intend to produce 100 tonnes of oranges, which would be taken to Nottingham Estate pack sheds for grading as they target the export market.
“We are partnering with Nottingham Estates, which is our mentor in terms of citrus farming.
We have also engaged them and as a start we will deliver 100 tonnes of oranges from our demonstration block,” he said.
“Nottingham Estates also helps us with inputs such as fertiliser and the amount we get depends on our annual requirements.
They are also assisting with technical advice.
“We have farmers who are currently on attachment at Nottingham Estate and working there to tap knowledge.
“The idea is that we want to empower the farmers so that they are better equipped and have global certification so that we are able to access export markets and that’s our plan for the next two years,” said Mr Moyo.
Beitbridge Juice Company, which is the main buyer, also helps farmers on technical aspects such as repairing pumps, electrical and other operational faults.
Agritex field officers assist farmers on global certification training and good agronomic practices.
“We also have a contract with SeedCo and we have been producing seed for the past two years,” said Mr Moyo.
“Currently we have 45 hectares under sugar beans.”
The citrus farming project was started in 2011 and they farmers are using three centre pivots.
Previously, farmers have been growing maize and wheat.
“We have 66 hectares of oranges and we anticipate harvesting 1 000 tonnes this season.
We are currently having 30 hectares of wheat under the Presidential Input Scheme,” said Mr Moyo.
“In March we harvested 30 tonnes of maize.
In terms of tonnages for oranges we are expecting a 35 percent increase from the previous farming season.”
Some of the major challenges affecting their operations include power outages amid reports the farmers lost 70 percent of targeted yield in 2020 as a result blackouts, which lasted for six months.
The project also uses old pipes, which were installed in 1960, to draw water from Shashe River when the scheme was first established and these are prone to frequent bursts.
Despite these setbacks, farmers are targeting 1 000 tonnes of oranges at the current price US$0.19 per kg and the scheme has an arrangement with the buyer to pay a certain amount in local currency and the other in US dollars cash.
Mr Moyo said they needed a pack shed for processing oranges for exports, which will assist in grading the product as well as installing solar as back up for power cuts.
Speaking separately, farmers said the citrus project has huge economic impact as it has transformed their lives.
Said Ms Melita Ndou, a widow said: “Through selling oranges.
I managed to raise my four children single-handed following the death of my husband.
Most farmers have also built beautiful homes, bought goats and a few beasts.
“We used to sell ilala brooms before this citrus farming project and it has proved to be a game changer for us.
Thanks to Government and its development partners for such a life changing initiative.”
Ms Litseyo Muleya said the farming project has transformed her life in a big way.
“We didn’t have any knowledge in terms of citrus farming but through this project we are now better farmers,” she said.
“It has transformed our lives and we are now more determined to do more because there is a lot to reap from this project.”
Ms Silibaziso Dube said when the project began, she was a bit sceptical, but has now seen its immense value.
“When we harvested last year, each farmer got an average of US$400.
This project is set to expand and we are anticipating to reap more profits as we expand,” she said.
Mr Douglas Zhou, an agriculture teacher at Shashe High School, which is part of the Shashe Irrigation Scheme beneficiaries, said the project has assisted learners in terms of the practical component of agriculture
“Our learners are applying the practical aspect especially on citrus management and field crops like maize and sugar beans,” he said.
“We are growing these crops under contract farming and when we harvest, we are paid through the schools account and that money is used for funding school development projects.
“We use the sugar beans to feed our 244 learners under the supplementary feeding scheme.”
Nottingham Estate general manager Mr Mark Elliott said they have offered to assist the Shashe Irrigation Scheme farmers with grading and processing their oranges.
The estate is also facilitating consultancy services to enhance improved output.
Nottingham Estate has been exporting 80 percent of its produce. – @mashnets.