Villagers from Mpofu in Lupane, Matabeleland North never thought one day they would contribute to national food security largely due to poor soils in the area.
Lupane district is largely sandy and for years the community had to rely on Government handouts following recurring droughts.
Even this year, most villagers did not get any significant yields in their farms, but within their district the Bubi-Lupane Irrigation Scheme is changing the narrative.
During the season, villagers participating in the irrigation scheme are paid wages and when they harvest and market the produce, they are then paid dividends.
President Mnangagwa launched the Bubi-Lupane Irrigation Scheme late last year which was identified as a pilot project for an integrated business model to be replicated across all provinces in the country as part of the National Food Security Strategy.
The Agricultural Rural Development Authority (ARDA) manages the scheme on behalf of the villagers.
The partnership has meant that Lupane is now contributing towards national food security.
At the moment, Bubi-Lupane Irrigation Scheme is in the process of harvesting a bumper maize crop planted on 180 hectares during the 2020/21 farming season.
When the scheme started in 2020, it only had 45 villagers who took a leap of faith.
Their faith turned around their lives following wheat harvesting last year that saw some villagers being paid $250 000 each for participation in wheat cropping.
This resulted in the number of participants increasing to 90 and more villagers are expected to join the scheme as it expands.
Our Bulawayo Bureau news observed a combined harvester harvesting maize at the irrigation scheme while community members were picking the maize missed by the machine.
Elated villagers said they never thought one day they could contribute to national food security and be paid at the same time but this has become their new reality.
Mrs Sinikiwe Moyo from Mpofu village said they were eagerly waiting to deliver their harvest to the Grain Marketing Board (GMB) so that they are paid.
“I was part of the people who were part of the scheme when it started. Working here has transformed my home. I’m moving from mud and thatch houses and building a modern home.
“Following the wheat harvest last year, I managed to buy sofas, a cupboard and a wardrobe and I bought these things all at once after I was paid $250 000 dividend pay-out. We got a good harvest here so we are optimistic to be paid handsomely for the maize crop,” said Mrs Moyo.
An elderly villager Ms Josephine Mpala said she only joined the scheme after observing the transformation of other scheme beneficiaries.
“I saw how working here transformed their lives, most of them are building modern homes, they have paid school fees for their children, so I said I will not be left behind. I’m yet to understand how the scheme works but I’m really optimistic. Also, this is going to improve our household food security as we did not get much in our fields,” said Mrs Mpala.
Bubi-Lupane Irrigation Scheme chairperson Mr Gerald Khumalo said working at the scheme has transformed the lives of Mpofu villagers, most of whom previously lived in abject poverty.
“We never thought that anything would come from our sandy soils in Lupane.
“But right now, we have had a good harvest and it is a result of following proper agronomic guidelines.
“We have shifted from subsistence farming to commercial farming. We are now contributing to national food security as this crop is going to sold to GMB and benefit other communities,” said Mr Khumalo.
He said even lifestyles of members of the scheme have been transformed as they are buying property and livestock.
ARDA chief executive Mr Tinotenda Mhiko said the scheme is crucial in terms of national food security.
“We are targeting to achieve between 810 and 880 tonnes of maize from the 180 hectares which was established during the 2021/2022 summer season. Bubi-Lupane Irrigation Scheme is strategic to food security as the households are producing for their own consumption and also selling surplus to the GMB.
“Farming as a business has transformed the scheme from subsistence to surplus oriented farming and this in turn allows the scheme to achieve food self-sufficiency,” said Mr Mhiko.
He said households participating in the scheme have transformed from subsistence to conducting farming as a business.
Mr Mhiko said the project is in sync with Government’s Agriculture Recovery Plan strategy whose aim is to transform the agriculture sector into a US$8,2 billion industry.
He said Government’s push for rural industrialisation is being realised through the programme.
“The project is strategic for attainment of Vision 2030 because agriculture development happening is causing rural industrialisation which in turn spurs rural development. The project is transforming lives as the farmers are both employees and shareholders of the scheme.”
“During the season they are paid wages and when they harvest and market the produce, they are then paid dividends,” he said.
“The wheat dividend from last season allowed them to build houses, pay school fees and many other things. The project has also created employment for the households, resident scheme business manager and resident scheme bookkeeper. The project has allowed the household beneficiaries to be economic participants instead of spectators in farming which is critical for attainment of Vision 2030.”
He said the Bubi-Lupane Irrigation Scheme is being expanded by an additional 180 hectares which will benefit downstream communities.