Recurrent drought — Irrigation development panacea to food security

Source: Recurrent drought — Irrigation development panacea to food security | The Sunday News March 17, 2019

Recurrent drought — Irrigation development panacea to food security
Cde Vangelis Haritatos

Vincent Gono, Features Editor

WHILE it is indisputable that rain-fed agriculture remains the biggest source of livelihood for the Zimbabwean population, it is important to note that its sustainability is under threat from global changes in climate with projections of low agricultural productivity starting to be apparent.

That droughts have been recurring while their severity have over the years been increasingly worrying is given. And for a country whose economy is largely dependent on agriculture, the under-performance of its sub-sectors brings a lot of sneezes to the country’s social and economic well-being.

Drought increases poverty while it also overburdens the country’s purse as money that could be used for importing other essentials such as medical drugs will be used to import food while industry dependant on agriculture also suffer.

To offset the effects of drought and lessen poverty in communities, the need to develop a robust irrigation strategy can never be overemphasised as it is the only way the country can unlock its full agricultural potential and mitigate itself against the grin effects of climate change.

In interviews after the successful launch of the land policy review in Bulawayo last week, Deputy Minister of Lands, Agriculture, Water, Climate and Rural Resettlement Cde Douglas Karoro said the Government had put in place various facilities in support of irrigation rehabilitation and development to mitigate against the effects of climate change.

He reiterated that the Government was grounded in the threats of food security caused by recurrent droughts as a result of global warming saying rain-fed agriculture was fast becoming a distant dream as it was no longer sustainable hence the need to go the irrigation way.

Deputy Minister Karoro said there were a number of irrigation initiatives that the country was pursuing in the quest to ensure its communities were food secure, some of which were being implemented through the Transitional Stabilisation Programme (TSP).

He admitted the lack of financial resources dogging the Government in developing and reviving irrigation schemes saying the Government could not go it alone and therefore had been working in partnership with various institutions, companies and individuals to achieve its intended objectives.

Deputy Minister Karoro said under the irrigation support programme phase 1 the Reserve Bank released US$6 million towards the procurement of 80 centre pivots from Spain. In support of civil works for the installation of the 80 centre pivots procured under the programme, Government availed US$500 000.

He said of the installed centre pivots, 68 pivots commanding 2 680 hectares were now operational while efforts were underway to operationalise the remaining 12 centre pivots. Negotiations, he said, were underway to secure an additional 80 centre pivots under phase 2 and identification of beneficiaries was in progress.

“As is in the TSP, Government secured US$18 million from Sakunda in support of irrigation rehabilitation targeting A2 farmers. The resources were mainly directed towards procurement of irrigation pumps and pipes and rehabilitation of centre pivots.

“I think you are also aware of the National Accelerated Irrigation Rehabilitation and Development Programme aimed at mitigating vulnerability of agriculture to droughts. The programme is targeting to add 200 hectares per district per year, with the objective of ensuring food security at household level.

“The programme recognises that there needs to be good governance systems, to avoid rehabilitated irrigation infrastructure falling into disrepair. This avoids much funding going towards the same projects few years later, following failure,” said Deputy Minister Karoro.

Responding to a question as to what the Government was doing to de-silt heavily silted dams, some of which were earmarked for irrigation, Deputy Minister Karoro said dam scooping equipment was going to come from Belarus after President Mnangagwa’s re-engagement visit as well as such equipment as combine harvesters, centre pivots and irrigation pipes. 

The TSP notes that Government has made a commitment to avail US$36,8 million, and to date Treasury has disbursed US$24 million towards this national accelerated irrigation rehabilitation and development programme.

For optimal yields, the thrust of investment will be in irrigation and mechanisation equipment, fertilisers and other inputs production, among others.

Co-Deputy Minister in the Ministry of Lands, Agriculture, Water, Climate and Rural Resettlement Cde Vangelis Haritatos added during the interview that the new dispensation made a whole departure from the previous administration in the approach to agriculture by de-racialising the crucial sector.

“The new dispensation championed by President Mnangagwa targets to restore Zimbabwe as the food basket of the region by transforming the agricultural sector which had been undermined by declines in productivity, arising from declining investment, and lack of know-how among others.

“To redress this, the new dispensation targets embracing the former displaced white farmers to form joint venture partnerships with the beneficiary A1 and A2 farmers. In this regard, Government will guarantee security of tenure for all farmers, irrespective of race, by issuing 99-year leases and A1 permits, to ensure uninterrupted production,” said Deputy Minister Haritatos.

He said former farmers should act as anchor farmers to other beneficiaries of the land reform programme in order to ensure increased production on the farms.

“The new dispensation has de-racialised land ownership, and recognises all Zimbabwean farmers, regardless of colour, creed or origin, and all farmers have rights to claim 99 year leases. Those previously subjected to issuance of discriminatory five-year renewable leases  are now entitled to and are being issued 99-year leases, and assured that the issue of new land invasions is a thing of the past, as the rule of law now applies. While at that Government will ensure an enabling environment for farming as a business, including security of tenure on land, a factor which had caused loss of confidence among investors before the advent of the new dispensation,” Cde Haritatos added.

He tapped into the TSP saying the new dispensation will also tap into the vast agricultural knowledge, skills, experience and farming competencies that are inherent in the operations of most of those former farmers who lost farms and are currently without access to land.

This, he says, opens opportunity for those who had left and want to come back to farming, in the process ensuring the revival of the agricultural sector, improve production and productivity on the land.

Deputy Minister Haritatos said it was important for the country to seriously engage and invest in water harvesting techniques as part of the basis for irrigation development rather than letting water flow to the ocean when the country needs it for supplementing rain water and see through crops to maturity.

The deputy ministers said public private partnerships were working wonders especially in areas where Arda estates were involved with Deputy Minister Karoro saying the Arda Estate in his Mbire constituency was impressively all green after almost 15 years of land idleness.

They said teams have so far been dispatched by the ministry to go out to provinces and compile a list of the equipment needed to resuscitate dysfunctional irrigation schemes with a view to make them functional in the not so distant future.

Late last year the president of United Nations-led International Fund for Agricultural Development (Ifad), Mr Gilbert Fossoun Houngbo said Zimbabwe needed to expand its irrigation scheme to combat drought and poverty.