Irrigation gets top priority

Source: Irrigation gets top priority | Sunday Mail (Local News)

. . . Establishment of 150 000ha by next year to be fast-tracked

Theseus Shambare

Government is finalising the Emergency Irrigation Development Programme (EIDP), which seeks to rapidly expand irrigated land to the targeted 350 000 hectares (ha) over the next 12 months, as part of concerted efforts to counter recurring droughts and bolster food security.

There are concerns over the slow pace of irrigation development, with only 34 000ha having been added between 2019 and 2023.

This comes as Zimbabwe is grappling with an intense El Niño-induced drought that has affected the 2023/2024 summer cropping season.

Experts warn such droughts could become more frequent.

Presently, approximately 203 000ha have functional irrigation.

The new programme involves the expeditious mobilisation of resources, as well as wooing participation by development partners and the private sector.

This is expected to fast-track the establishment of more than 150 000ha by next year.

A US$41 million kitty has since been mobilised for irrigation development this year.

Overall, US$325 million has been spent on developing irrigation infrastructure since 2019.

A Government plan seen by The Sunday Mail shows that approximately 83 000ha of existing irrigation networks are being expanded, targeting areas with development potential and underutilised water bodies.

A further 81 600ha of irrigation are being developed at ongoing dam projects.

Through increased use of groundwater resources and transboundary river systems, an additional 39 500ha are being brought under irrigation.

A rehabilitation blitz targeting non-functional irrigation schemes and water sources also seeks to bring close to 45 000ha back into operation.

In an interview with The Sunday Mail, Lands, Agriculture, Fisheries, Water and Rural Development Deputy Minister Vangelis Haritatos highlighted the importance of irrigation in building resilience against droughts.

“Government is prioritising irrigation development to decisively move away from over-reliance on rain-fed agriculture through various initiatives,” he said.

“These include the Public Sector Investment Programme and interventions by development partners and the private sector.

“To this end, the ministry is proposing to establish the Emergency Irrigation Development Programme to accelerate irrigation development.”

Accelerating irrigation development, he said, will enable Zimbabwe to take a pro-active approach to combat the challenges posed by climate change.

“The Government’s plan involves a multi-faceted approach, including the construction of new dams, reservoirs and water-catchment systems.

“Additionally, existing irrigation schemes will be rehabilitated and upgraded to improve efficiency and optimise water usage.

“The Ministry of Agriculture is collaborating with international partners, NGOs (non-governmental organisations) and local communities to implement the irrigation initiatives effectively.”

He said the EIDP will accelerate irrigation development.

“The country is targeting to put at least 350 000ha under functional irrigation facilities for cereals by 2025 under the National Accelerated Irrigation Rehabilitation and Development Programme,” he said.

“The programme shall facilitate urgent engagement with the private sector through the already established Irrigation Development Alliance.

“Treasury is expected to expedite the provision of the required necessary support for mobilisation of both local and international funding.

“The strategic importation of the necessary irrigation equipment or raw materials not available locally shall be prioritised as economically feasible.”

Zimbabwe had about 169 000ha under irrigation in 2019.

By significantly expanding irrigated land, the Government hopes to reduce reliance on rain-fed agriculture, ultimately enhancing national food security and mitigating the impact of droughts.

Zimbabwe Commercial Farmers’ Union president Dr Shadreck Makombe said interventions to modernise farm production were welcome.

“That is the route to go for smart agriculture,” said Dr Makombe.

“We needed to remechanise and with climate change, irrigation is going to be our mainstay.”

Zimbabwe National Farmers Union president Ms Monica Chinamasa said: “We have to learn from this season and construct more dams wherever possible; that is one way to go.”

Since 2018, the Government has funded the construction of 12 high-impact dams countrywide, including Lake Gwayi-Shangani; Ziminya; Tuli Manyange; Kunzvi; Marovanyati; Muchekeranwa; Vungu; Silverstroom; Dande; Bindura and Semwa.

Irrigation schemes around Mtshabezi Dam, Silalabuhwa Dam, Tuli River-Sebasa and Makwe Dam have also been rehabilitated and equipped.

In Matabeleland North, the Government has rehabilitated the Bubi-Lupane Irrigation Scheme.

In addition, about 10 000 village business units are set to be completed this year under a new initiative geared towards accelerating development of strategic ventures in rural communities, underpinned by small-scale irrigation.

* X: @TheseusShambare