Mutoko’s Chitora irrigation scheme flourishes 

Source: Mutoko’s Chitora irrigation scheme flourishes | The Herald

Mutoko’s Chitora irrigation scheme flourishes
Professor Obert Jiri

Trust Freddy Herald correspondent

Villagers from Chitora in Mutoko never thought that one day they would send their children to boarding schools through farming, let alone watch the FIFA World Cup tournament at a time the whole nation was having electricity challenges.

Driving cars was a pipe-dream for many, but these dreams are now becoming a reality for some.

The Chitora Irrigation Scheme in Mutoko, initiated by the Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA), with support from the Government, has seen the emergence of some of Zimbabwe’s most successful smallholder farmers.

A typical rags to riches that has inspired many in that area and beyond.

The major turning point for the Mutoko community was in 2020 when the Government and JICA revamped the Chitora Irrigation Scheme under Zimbabwe Smallholder Horticulture Empowerment and Promotion project (ZIM-SHEP).

From 1994, farmers had been incurring heavy loses for decades owing to lack of skills, limited access, unstable prices and underdeveloped market.

The irrigation scheme was on verge of collapse owing to high operational costs but many rural lives have since been transformed in the semi-arid district of Mutoko.

Running under the theme “Changing the mindset of farmers from, “Grow and sell to Grow to sell”, ZIM-SHEP has managed to transform irrigation schemes into profitable, equitable and economically sustainable projects.

The 37 hectare irrigation scheme for 73 farmers, each plot holder having 0,5 hectares, is not only providing direct income to farmers but also creating employment for local people who are not part of the scheme.

Located in Mashonaland East Province, the project is in Natural Region III, a relatively low rainfall area, which receives on average 500-700 mm of rainfall per year.

Villagers are making a killing from selling cabbages, carrots, beans, groundnuts, sweet potatoes and other cash crops.

One of the beneficiaries, Mr Collen Liyala said within a short space of time, they managed to build decent accommodation and pay school fees for their children, who are all in boarding schools.

“We live the life we want and eat what we want because with this approach, you can even calculate your profits before you plant your crops. My kids are currently learning at a boarding school and from my fresh groundnuts, for example, I am expecting to make a minimum profit of US$2 000 from a portion of my field measuring 1 300 square metres which is about the size of a low density urban residential stand.

“Overall, I have a field measuring 5 000m2 from which I grow several other crops,” he said.

ZIM-SHEP is set to be replicated in the whole province through Agritex which will offer extension services, training support and equip farmers with modern knowledge.

Chairman for Chitora Irrigation Scheme, Mr Maxwell Samanyanga acknowledged the great achievement that came with the ZIM-SHEP programme.

“Our lives are changing because we have readily available markets, we no longer relying on Mbare Musika market as we used to do before.

“This time we are supplying big companies but we haven’t stopped supplying our produce to Mbare but that would be the last option,” he said.

Choppies, Willsgrove and Mutoko Royal Fruits and Veggies are some of the companies that are supporting smallholder farmers by purchasing their produce using good rates.

Another farmer, Mrs Nyarai Mafunga said everything was fine at the irrigation scheme apart from challenges of pesticides availability.

“Before we had this facility, we were not doing anything special but now we are benefiting a lot. Everything is fine with us but we are only facing challenges of pesticide this rainy season,” she said. Mrs Racheal Mafunga, who joined the scheme in 2012, was equally excited about the ZIM-SHEP which dramatically turned their fortunes.

“As it stands, I can afford to send my children to a boarding school , they are still in primary but I am planning to enrol them at a boarding school.

“I am no longer solely relying on my husband income, my carrots are ready to be harvested and expecting to get a minimum profit of US$1 000 from this small piece of land because it’s offseason,” she said.

Irrigation is essential to boost production in dryland areas, especially given the increased variability in rainfall patterns due to climate change.

Cash earned from selling this produce can be used to buy basic commodities which help people in rural areas to sustain their lives. ZIM-SHEP has empowered women in Chitora and they are playing a leading role in irrigation farming. Low income, lack of skills for production, limited access, unstable prices and underdeveloped market are some of the challenges that farmers usually face.

Despite all these challenges, Chitora villagers are doing reasonably well as most of them are producing surpluses and re-investing in their farms.

JICA Zimbabwe resident representative, Mr Kyosuke Kawazumi said the SHEP approach was born in Kenya and it was now being practiced in 26 African countries including Zimbabwe as well in other 12 Asian Countries.

By targeting the smallholder farming sector which dominates horticulture production in Zimbabwe, the ZIM-SHEP project speaks to the needs of small scale farmers.

“We do not provide any agricultural inputs but we capacitate and empower farmers through our trainings so that they can be able to do farming as a business by themselves. After our trainings, they should be in a position to independently look for potential buyers and further do market research, that way it is more sustainable,” Mr Kawazumi said.

Small scale irrigation schemes in Zimbabwe have often had trouble seeing anticipated returns on investment.

As Africa faces the threat of climate change, Agritex chief director Professor Obert Jiri said smallholder farmers, who form the bulk of continent’s food producers, should always be innovative and never use climate as an excuse.

“The truth of the matter is that you don’t entirely need rainfall to grow. You can always harness water from reservoirs and utilise it.

If you look at Israel for example, it has desert-like conditions but they harness water farm. They don’t even have good soils but they harness water and utilise it for production.

“As long as we can climate proof our farming through irrigation and as long as we can take advantage of the rains when they fall and with our extensive extension system we will succeed.

“Our weather forecasting prowess is good and as long as we have technology, we must be able to climate proof our production,” he said.

Professor Jiri said that smallholder farmers must be protected as they are contributing at least 70 to 80 percent of the food being produced in Zimbabwe.

“The bulk of our cereal is definitely from that sector. The bulk of our small traditional grains is definitely from that sector.

“If we can climate proof and also ensure farmers are protected against the external inputs and that they get fertilisers and seeds on time, our yields and earnings will grow.”

Agritex chief horticulture specialist Mr Assah Mudhefi said market research should be the first priority for all smallholder farmers.

“In horticulture, the produce is perishable so before you start, you should know the market first before you get into horticulture.

“Most of the time you hear that people in Chimanimani or any other areas have grown tomatoes but they are rotting. Why do you go into production without a market in the first place?”

“With this approach, we capacitate farmers to look for the market before they start and sometimes they grow what they would have been told by potential buyers,” Mudhefi said.

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