Vurasha Irrigation Scheme a miracle in Mberengwa

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WITH arable land in the country reported at four million hectares by the World Bank, Zimbabwe, according to pundits, can survive and thrive on agriculture alone.
Be it in urban or rural areas, small and huge pieces of land will be found dedicated to crop production.
For many locals, agriculture is the activity to live on.
It doesn’t matter what other economic activity there is, people must at least have some portion of land under crop production.
At the country’s economic peak, 60 percent of raw materials for industry came from the agricultural sector.
Pundits contend that for maximum benefit to be realised from agriculture, it is time locals relinguish rain-fed agriculture.
Over-reliance on rain-fed agriculture, experts say, will result in the country failing to realise the maximum potential of agriculture.
It is time our people alternate rain-fed agriculture with irrigation, said agronomist Blessing Makwakwa.
On the ground, there is immediate need for setting up irrigation infrastructure.
Scorching heat saps the energy of travellers traversing the 28km dusty stretch linking Buchwa Mine and Mberengwa.
A sombre atmosphere engulfs us at the sight of a wilting maize crop.
The yellowish leaves drain all hope of a bumper harvest
Usually at this time of the year farmers would be busy weeding thei fields.
But this is not the case with villagers with homesteads by the roadside.
There is no activity.
The story continues.
Nearly 23km before Mataga Business Centre is a left turn which leads to Vurasha District.
Despite having changed roads, the story remains unchanged.
The state of the maize crop keeps getting worse.
It is only the mapfura/amarula trees that look lively and lush with the fruits scattered on the roads.
Cattle, goats and even chickens not only seek shade under the mupfura/amarula trees but also feast on the fruits as the grass everywhere is dry.
Muchingwizi River, which is usually flowing at this time of year, is dried up, dampening all hopes of a successful agricultural season.
That is the story of some parts of Mberengwa, which have over the years not received meaningful rains, translating to a poor agricultural season.
But the story dramatically changes as one approaches Vurasha District.
It is a totally different chapter from the preceding ones.
In the heart of Vurasha District lies Vurasha Irrigation Scheme.
As Muhlava Zhou from Nyamhondo Village opens the gate to the 27-hectare irrigation scheme, she opens a whole new chapter of the Mberengwa agricultural tale.
The sound of cheers and laughter ensues as farmers go about their daily farm activities.
There is life.
The dull and slow life is not evident here.
The Mberengwa spirit is rejuvenated.
The picture of frail-pale maize crop is replaced by a healthy-lively looking crop.
The refreshing sight signals that hope is not lost for the Mberengwa community.
It is hope rekindled.
At Vurasha Irrigation Scheme, the 56 families who make up its membership are re-writing the story of local food fortunes in an area that has perennially relied on food aid.
Set up in 1991, the irrigation scheme has been a pillar of economic support in the community.
Prior to the setting up of the scheme, the community had struggled to protect, preserve and fully utilise the water source that is Vurasha Dam.
As a result, farmers recorded poor harvests due to erratic rainfall patterns experienced in the area despite staying near a water source.
The poor results confirmed to them the importance of moving away from relying on rain-fed agriculture.
Something had to be done.
Villagers had to come up with a strategy to preserve their source of livelihood.
They grouped themselves in a bid to find ways to fully utilise the water source.
The first step was to get organised and pool resources.
After that, work began.
Villagers moulded bricks to build canals that would help move water closer to their fields.
Their efforts were not in vain.
Their determination and resilience attracted Government which was on a drive to rehabilitate and establish irrigation schemes.
The reasoning behind these low cost irrigation schemes was to help old resettlement, communal and A1 farmers to grow crops all year round.
Government took over the setting up of the irrigation scheme.
“Government chipped in providing building material, machinery that was required to clear the roads and villagers continued supplying labour,” said Vurasha Irrigation Scheme chairperson Vesta Bayai.
“Assistance was in the form of cement to build canals and fencing material.”
In 1991, the setting up of Vurasha Irrigation Scheme was completed and was officially opened and handed over to the community. The scheme became one of the irrigation schemes set up by Government in Mberengwa including Chimwe-Chegato, Biri and Mundi-Mataga.
The completion of the irrigation scheme meant work had to begin.
Nearly 27 years later, Vurasha Irrigation Scheme is still operational and villagers continue to benefit from it.
It is refreshing to note that those with access to irrigation schemes are making the most of these schemes.
Bayai said the irrigation scheme has helped transform the lives of community members not only by empowering them economically but with skills.
“As a community, we have been practising horticulture, growing crops such as vegetables, tomatoes and onions as well as cereal production which involves maize and wheat production,” Bayai said.
“We harbour diversification plans which include fish and mushrooms, among other options.
“A capacity building approach was used to develop technologies that are suitable and this empowered beneficiary households to mobilise their own capacities and resources in a suitable manner.”
Of the 56 members affiliated to the irrigation scheme, each gets a piece of land measuring half a hectare.
Each member decides on the crops he/she intends to produce.
Members source their own inputs.
If a member fails to access inputs for any cropping season he/she is allowed to find another villager who can temporarily use the land.
“We do not want a situation where we under-utilise the land, so if a farmer fails to get inputs in time he/she can get someone to use the land until he/she is able to get back to the farm,” said Bayai.
A member of the community, Jameson Moyo, from Chengwe Village said the horticulture projects had helped transform his life.
“I produce tomatoes, vegetables, onions, cucumbers, sweet potatoes and butternuts and with the proceeds, together with fellow community members, we have managed to build houses and send our children to school,” he said.
“I sell both fresh and dried vegetables to cater for the different needs of the market.”
The community, however, is faced with finance challenges.
Another beneficiary for the scheme, Kundai Hungwe said the community was faced with marketing challenges and funds to purchase adequate inputs.
“We sell our produce to Zvishavane, Mberengwa and other surrounding communities but we also wish to expand our market base,” she said.
“In winter we do not have suitable places to store horticulture produce as these are perishable foods and they go bad easily hence at times we lose our produce.”
Like other growers, Vurasha Irrigation Scheme members are affected by pests and diseases.
Last year, the country was hit by an armyworm outbreak and farmers in Mberengwa were not spared.
The outbreak also hit Vurasha Irrigation Scheme.
“Last year we were affected by the armyworm outbreak and we did not have adequate chemicals to fight it as it was a different breed from that which normally attacks our crop,” said Simon Kweshe from Damure Village.
“This year again, the armyworm is back and we are still battling to eradicate it.”
Vurasha Irrigation Scheme members have an outstanding ZINWA debt which they are battling to clear, among other challenges.
Members are required to pay US$7 after every three months to raise money to pay water bills and maintenance of the property.
However, some members fail to pay their subscriptions, making it difficult for the Vurasha Irrigation Scheme committee to carry out administrative duties.
Despite these challenges, the Vurasha community has remained resilient and committed to fully utilising the irrigation scheme.
With more communities working together to improve their livelihoods and ensure food security, the agriculture sector is indeed poised for continued growth.
There have been growing calls for Government to come up with a meaningful contribution towards the setting up of viable irrigation infrastructure that can adequately sustain and guarantee the country of food security in the face of drought.
The need to develop a national irrigation policy to counter the persistent droughts that are so frequent, and are clearly caused by climate change, has been reiterated.
In response, Government, through the 2018 National Budget, allocated the Lands, Agriculture and Rural Resettlement Ministry US$52,1 million for irrigation rehabilitation and development, targeting at least 200 hectares per district to be implemented annually over the next 10 years.
The setting up of more irrigation schemes would help consolidate food security gains achieved by Special Maize Production Programme under Command Agriculture.
According to Lands, Agriculture and Rural Resettlement Deputy Minister Davis Marapira, from last year when Command Agriculture was launched, joint ventures were put in place to finance the development of irrigation schemes in all provinces.
Through Private Public Partnerships (PPPs), Government has worked on irrigation schemes under ARDA.
Under the Brazil Loan Facility, in some cases Government resuscitated (modified and added new infrastructure to the existing) or revitalised (completely changed systems as they were outdated).
Under the More Food for Africa Programme Brazil irrigation scheme facility of US$98 million, Government has already established US$69 million worth of irrigation schemes across the country.
Government has extended the Brazil More Food for Africa irrigation facility to mission schools, churches and prisons, among other institutions under Phase Two of the programme as the food security net is cast wider.
By revitalising and moving to the use of pivot irrigation facilities, it means changing to new technology and this will help improve on our average yields.
Government is targeting 400 000 ha under irrigation in the next three years.
To date, nearly 150 000 ha are under functional irrigation systems with 18 schemes under ARDA having been revamped.
Revamped irrigation schemes include Antelope, Insukamini, Siyaso (Mvuma), Ruchanyu (Shurugwi), Hama Mavhaire (Silobela) and Fair Acres (Kwekwe) which has 500 ha under centre pivot irrigation.
In Manicaland, there is Bonde, Nyanyadzi and Knowe, while Bulawayo Kraal is in Bulawayo Metropolitan Province.
Masvingo has Mushandike, Marowa, Nandi and Sanganai Irrigation schemes.
In Mashonaland West, Doreen Prite (Kadoma) and Sanyati are among schemes now fully functional.
Government also undertook Public Sector Investment Programme (PSIP) projects in areas such as Chiduku-Tikwiri in Manicaland, Chitora in Mashonaland East and Fuwe Panganayi in Masvingo to shield farmers from drought.
The Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO), with support from the European Union, is expected to disburse US$2 million for ongoing works at 20 irrigation schemes in Matabeleland South and Manicaland provinces.
An amount of US$3,3 million will be disbursed by the Japanese International Co-operation Agency (JICA) for ongoing works at Nyakomba Irrigation Project Block A.
Through the Swiss Agency for Development Co-operation, FAO will also disburse US$3,4 million towards 14 irrigation schemes in Masvingo Province.
For a country that boasts 15,9 million hectares (ha) of arable land, surely the adoption of new technologies in agriculture would see the country meeting its yearly grain target of two million tonnes.

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